Inclusive education is defined as an approach that aims at transforming the whole education system to respond to the diversity of learners’ needs to increase access to education and enhance the quality of education. All learners are different; therefore, the education system must develop responses to this diversity. It involves the process of ‘increasing the active participation of learners in, and reducing their exclusion from the cultures, curricula and communities of local schools.’ In Eritrea, inclusive education has mainly been considered as an access to education for persons with sensory disability.
Special education needs
In the 2018–22 education sector plan, special needs education is the ‘education of students with special needs in a way that addresses the students’ individual differences and needs.’ Children in disadvantaged situations are children in rural areas, girls, children from nomadic livelihood families, children with disabilities, street or working children, orphans and other vulnerable children. The process of special needs education involves the implementation of systematically monitored appropriate teaching practices and adequate equipment and materials.
Formal education services for children with disabilities started in Eritrea in the 1960s, mainly for deaf and blind children. In this regard, there are two schools for the deaf in the Maekel and Anseba regions run by religious organizations and one government school for the blind in Maekel. They are all in urban towns and all at elementary level and are of the boarding type. No additional special school has been opened in the last decade.
The Ministry of Education has committed to reaching a stage where segregated and special needs classes ‘would be phased out’. In this respect, the ministry’s 2008 Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education reaffirms that ‘“schools should accommodate all children”, including children with disabilities’ and the 2018–22 education sector plan aims to enhance education access for children with disabilities at all levels. Nevertheless, at the same time, it aims to consolidate the existing special classes. The Ministry of Education has made efforts in this sense to integrate children with intellectual disabilities into mainstream schools in a self-contained special classroom. In 2015/16, these classes enrolled more than 300 students in about 15 special classes within 15 schools in 2 zobas (regions). Once they have completed their studies in specialized elementary schools, children with disabilities are generally integrated into general education institutions.
Even if Eritrea has not ratified the Convention Against Discrimination in Education and does not have an education act, Article 21 of the 1997 Constitution states that all citizens have the right of equal access to publicly funded social services and that the State shall make education available to all citizens, within the limit of its resources. In addition, Article 14 affirms that ‘No person may be discriminated against on account of race, ethnic origin, language, colour, gender, religion, disability, age, political view, or social or economic status or any other improper factors.’
In 2003 and 2008, the Ministry of Education in partnership with international development partners Danida and the European Union initiated an action programme aimed to promote inclusive education advocating for ‘the provision of education for children in disadvantaged circumstances, including those with disabilities and other “special needs” as part of the EFA [Education for All] frameworks.’ At the same time, the ministry developed and disseminated ‘the guidelines on SNE [special needs education] and Inclusive Education’.
The 2008 Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education aimed to increase access to education and to improve the quality of the learning experience of all learners in schools through curricular modifications and education provision as a whole, with the following specific objectives: to institutionalize inclusive education within the education sector; to provide a range of diverse education opportunities; to build an education support system; to write a curriculum and an assessment framework that reflect the diversity of the learner population; to enhance education administrators’ capacity in inclusive education; to empower school communities to address and respond to the diverse learning needs of children without discrimination based on physical, social and intellectual abilities or emotional, linguistic and other conditions; and to implement inclusive education through collaboration and coordinated actions. Various strategies were identified to achieve these objectives, such as strengthening and developing data for inclusive education; developing flexible approaches to reach out to vulnerable learners; developing an education support needs assessment; integrating the principles and practice of inclusive education in all teacher education programmes to develop their professional capacities; strengthening education in the mother tongue; diversifying curriculum content and methods; and increasing communities’ and families’ participation in education.
Eritrea has not ratified the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but Articles 14(3), 41(6)(C) and 52(1) of the Constitution directly address issues relating to disability. In addition, Articles 339–379, 591, 628, 670, 791, 863, 1728(3) and 1729(1) of the 1991 Transitional Civil Code address issues on disability or persons with disabilities.
As for policies, the Government of Eritrea reported that it drafted a national disability policy in 2014 (link not available). This policy identified programmes to provide orthopedic appliances, cash allowances, educational materials, education in special schools, community-based rehabilitation programmes and more for persons with disabilities in the country. The 2010 National Education Policy aimed to make basic education available to all free of charge but does not contain specific guidelines on disability. An absence of recognized sign language training for education has also been noted.
Finally, Objective 2 of the 2018–22 education sector plan is to improve the quality of learning and learning outcomes for children with special needs through the modification/adaptation of the curricula for educating children with various disabilities and the increase of local production of education materials. According to the plan document, the Ministry of Education’s 2008 Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education reaffirms that ‘schools should accommodate all children’, including children with disabilities. Additionally, under schemes of the education sector development plan, the ministry constructed 25 special resource rooms in 6 zobas and staged awareness raising among educators.
With regard to implementation, in 2001 the Ministry of Education initiated a pilot programme titled Special Needs Education Within the Concept of Inclusive Education, with the objective to inform policy trends and strategies developed in the field of inclusive education and to provide a conceptual background for the proposed strategy for the development and implementation of inclusive education. Between 2012 and 2015, nine primary schools, three special schools and one middle school as well as higher education institutions participated in the pilot project, which helped to implement learner-centred teaching and learning methods to accommodate the diverse needs of children with disabilities in classrooms. In addition, the action programme developed in cooperation with Danida and the European Union allowed the construction of 25 resource rooms in various regions of the country for children with disabilities.
Eritrea ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1995 and drafted the National Education Gender Policy and Strategy in 2009. This policy endorses the need to recruit more female teachers to serve as role models, to construct separate toilets and to provide material and financial incentives to schoolgirls. Eritrea also drafted an Education Sector HIV and AIDS Policy in 2004. One of the objectives of the proposal presented by the government of Eritrea in 2013 to the Global Partnership for Education was to ‘enhance equitable access to quality basic education for social justice’ and to bridge the gender gap in education. The 2018–22 education sector plan identified gender disparity, especially in lowland areas, as one of the major challenges and gaps of primary education. This disparity was also identified in secondary and technical and vocational schools. An objective of the education sector plan will be to narrow gender disparity in literacy and continuing education programmes.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Eritrea is a multi-ethnic society with nine different ethnic groups speaking nine different languages (Afar, Bedawiet, Bilen, Kunama, Nara, Rashaida, Saho, Tigre and Tigrigna). In this regard, Article 4 of the Constitution provides that ‘the equality of all Eritrean languages is guaranteed’, and literacy programmes are given in all local languages since Eritrean independence. In addition, the 2010 Nomadic Education Policy aims to ‘ensure equitable access to education for all children in nomadic or pastoral areas ... improve the chances for the girl child in these communities to enroll and stay in school’ and ‘integrate emerging technologies in the provision of education in nomadic areas’. Finally, the 2018–22 education sector plan seeks to translate the elementary-level reviewed manuals into nine Eritrean languages, to prepare monolingual dictionaries in seven languages and to produce teaching songs in three Eritrean languages. The Ministry of Education also follows the policy of positive discrimination in the selection procedure for technical and vocational schools by reserving 35% of the total entrance spots to disadvantaged ethnic groups. Furthermore, the disadvantaged ethnic groups are enrolled free of charge in technical and vocational schools with boarding facilities. Adult literacy is delivered in all nine local languages.
People living in rural or remote areas
The 2018–22 education sector plan aims to create information centres in remote villages, to support the newly literate to get up-to-date information, to introduce ICT-based and learner-centred approaches in remote areas and to install solar-power systems in rural schools with student populations of 1,000 and above. In parallel, the government has constructed elementary and middle schools ‘almost in every corner of the country to implement its policy of equitable distribution and expansion of schools in rural areas.’ Moreover, to reduce inequality in access, the Ministry of Education established skill development centres in selected areas of disadvantaged regions.
The Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper endorses equitable access and quality education at all levels for all citizens. In parallel, the Ministry of Education established skill development centres in disadvantaged regions and waives any financial expenses demanded by schools for the poor and other disadvantaged groups; disadvantaged ethnic groups are also enrolled free of charge in technical and vocational schools with boarding facilities. Waiving financial expenses for the poor and other disadvantaged groups is also mentioned among the strategies of the 2018–22 education sector plan to increase enrolment in middle education levels. Community reading rooms are planned and managed as part of adult education programmes to enhance literacy skills acquired at literacy centres and to cultivate a habit of reading among the population. Currently, there about 90 reading rooms in 6 zobas, with the majority located in 3 zobas (Maekel, Debub and Anseba).
The complementary elementary education (CEE) programme, a joint initiative by the government and UNICEF, was developed to respond to the challenges related to out-of-school children. It was launched in 2006/07 in four zobas with two main objectives: 1) to create alternative provisions for elementary education for out-of-school children aged 9–14 and assist those eligible to be mainstreamed in the formal system at the middle level; and 2) to support the other CEE beneficiaries (who could not join the formal system) to continue their learning in adult education programmes. However, most of the CEE learning centres ‘are located in remote areas very far from the nearest elementary school.’ Between 2007 and 2012, ‘more than 12,000 children enrolled at the first level and more than 800 joined the formal system at middle level.’
Since 1994, a section within the Department of National Pedagogy has dealt with special education. It aims to establish categories for pupils with special learning and behavioural needs, including orphans, refugees, individuals suffering from trauma and gifted children. The 2011 National Education Policy underlines the ministry’s commitment to embracing the equity dimension in efforts to expand access to general education. The Policy and Strategy on Inclusive Education highlights the need for collaboration across the education sector. In this regard, the Ministry of Education has the primary responsibility for inclusive education policy formulation, curriculum development, human capacity development, setting standards, and monitoring and evaluation. In line with Legal Notice No. 1 of 1991, the Ministry of Education conducts teacher training courses and workshops to promote the education of children with special needs. In addition, it conducts pilot special needs education classes in some regions of the country. The ministry is in charge of the provision of textbooks and procures school facilities including furniture, teaching and learning materials as well as constructing classrooms, teachers’ quarters, pedagogical resource centres, laboratories and other school infrastructure.
At the local level, school principals and parent-teacher-student associations are responsible for school development programmes in inclusive education.
Finally, Eritrea does not have a case reporting system or any official body that specifically addresses violations of the rights to education or the right of people with disabilities.
Objective 4 of the 2018–22 education sector plan is to strengthen the supply of curriculum materials. To this end, strategies 4.1 to 4.3 aim to develop curriculum materials, to equip schools with teaching and learning materials and to produce mother-tongue teaching and learning materials. Objective 1.2 aims to organize workshops to prepare and print learning materials in local languages.
Objective 6 of the 2018–22 education sector plan is to enhance the institutional capacity of the education sector in relation to the deployment, accessibility and utilization of ICT. In this respect, an ICT in education programme launched in January 2005 has improved the quality of education by integrating ICT as a tool for teaching and learning as well as for education management across the sector. Since 2005, ICT labs have been established in 155 lower and upper secondary schools across the country, which represents 33% coverage.
Textbooks for grades 1–5 were adopted to suit the education needs of blind and deaf children and ‘support has been provided to the Eritrean Association for the Deaf and to parents of children with [autism and Down’s syndrome] to enhance their children’s learning opportunities.’ Finally, the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare, in cooperation with the National Association for the Deaf, published a sign language dictionary that was disseminated throughout the country, including in schools.
According to the proposals presented by Eritrea to the Global Partnership for Education in 2013, ‘the curriculum of CEE is similar to that of the elementary education in the formal system but it is adapted to suit the needs of the learners. Text books with teachers’ guides are prepared and printed although there will be need to reprint the texts to cover the expected surge in enrolment by the new CEE learners.’
With respect to gender, the education sector plan mentions several efforts that have been made, including the ‘provision of material and financial incentives to school girls, constructing gender segregated toilets, opening boarding and Para-boarding schools, development of communication strategies of girls education and use of affirmative action for college/higher education admission’. The National Union of Eritrean Women also provides tutorial activities in middle and secondary schools.
Noting the ‘shortage of qualified teachers for children with disability’, the 2018–22 education sector plan seeks to conduct training of trainers on mother-tongue education for 150 teachers at the national level and 1,500 teachers at the regional (zoba) level. In this context, many non-government organizations, such as the National Union of Eritrean Women and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, also assist with training courses and workshops for teachers across the nation.
Several different initiatives have been implemented by the Ministry of Education. For instance, more than 4,000 basic education teachers and community members in six regions received an orientation on inclusive education principles, policies and practices. A guideline on education support in inclusive settings has also been developed. In addition, since 1996, pedagogical resource centres have been implemented to support systems and to offer opportunities for teachers to work together in preparing and implementing effective inclusive teaching. Several local trainings are conducted for teachers by these pedagogical resource centres. However, some of these centres are not functioning well due to lack of resources, personnel and proper management structure. Finally, between 2012 and 2015, Eritrea trained many teachers in making curricular and teaching adaptations to suit the needs of children with disabilities. Inclusive education support groups were also established in the different administrative regions.
The College of Education offers a psychology course in special needs and inclusive education only to the degree students of its Educational Psychology and Educational Administration programmes.
Eritrea does not have a national monitoring report. However, in the 2018 education sector plan, the source of monitoring data is identified for each indicator. The plan states that the indicators are aligned with Sustainable Development Goals.
The educational management information system (EMIS) is the primary source for monitoring data and there is an EMIS focal person in each regional Ministry of Education office. The ministry works in collaboration with the National Statistics Office of the Ministry of National Development. It will lead consultation with regions to gather data to measure particular indicators where there are no existing data.
Indicators related to inclusive education mentioned in the 2008 education sector plan include: number of children with disabilities in special schools and special classrooms for both boys and girls; number of regular schools supported to ensure access for children with disabilities; modified and/or adapted curricula materials for K–5 for children with disabilities; number of special schools and special classes equipped with assistive learning materials to support special needs; refresher training of 600 existing teachers in nomadic schools; procurement of furniture for existing 25 nomadic schools; number of classrooms constructed and schools rehabilitated; percentage of the villages with access to adult literacy and complementary elementary education programmes; gender literacy gap; procurement of library furniture and library books; number of WASH facilities constructed; and number of textbooks distributed for adult literacy in local languages. The plan also mentions the need to establish an adult and non-formal education database by developing disaggregated data collection systems to identify disadvantaged groups and gender disparities and to target them for participation and progress in learning.