The 2015 inclusive education policy defines inclusive education as ‘education that does not exclude any student irrespective of difficulty, disability, gender or colour, while taking into consideration individual differences and responding to individual needs.’ Similarly, Article 1 of the 2017 Education Law defines inclusive education as an education that does not exclude any students, regardless of difficulty, disability, sex or colour, while taking personal differences into consideration and fulfilling needs. Inclusive education not only entails bringing students with learning difficulties or disabilities into public education, but also offers a paradigm shift with its view that the lack of access of these children to education is not the students’ problem, but is a structural and systemic issue that needs to be addressed. Thus, inclusive education aims to create and affect core changes in the system (policies, resource allocation, teaching methods, curricula, infrastructure, access, etc.) so that the education system becomes flexible and learner-centred and caters for learners’ needs.
The 2014–19 education development strategic plan (EDSP 3) offers a vision of inclusive education as a system ‘accessible to all, diverse and welcoming of all, flexible in adapting to the learning and social needs of every student.’ The 2015 inclusive education policy aims to ‘ensur[e] safe, inclusive, and equitable access to education at all levels of the system’ and the EDSP 3, which aims to ’provide the means to increase inclusion of students with special needs in schools with a focus on all groups, including the gifted’, indicates a commitment to approach inclusive education from a broader perspective and not just as an issue relevant to people with disabilities.
Special education needs
Special education focuses on catering for students with special education needs as a separate category of students, but it does not focus on the need to introduce fundamental changes in the quality of public education beyond creating a parallel or separate system. The inclusive education policy highlights that special education is a concept that assumes there is a distinctly separate group of learners who have ‘special educational needs’ and for whom special, often separate/segregated services are needed. The 2012 Policy for Safe and Equitable Access to Education mentions marginalized groups/children, such as children distanced from service centres, poor children, children with disability, orphans, children in conflict with the law, and children in marginalized areas such as East Jerusalem and its suburbs, Bedouin areas, areas close to the Wall, Seam Zone, the Old City of Hebron and South Hebron.
Special classes and schools
Ministerial Decree No. 40 of 2004 was issued to supplement and update Law 4 of 1999 to be fully in accordance with the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, clarifying that the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) should only be offering ‘special education’ in cases where there is not a potential opportunity for the student with a disability to attend a public school or classroom. According to UNICEF’s 2018 report on out-of-school children in Palestine, ‘special education centres and schools for children with different types of disabilities are another category of tailored education services outside of regular schools. Many of these centres are run by non-governmental organizations and licensed by the MoEHE [Ministry of Education and Higher Education]. Others are run by MoSD [the Ministry of Social Development] and UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], though they have limited outreach.’
Integrated and inclusive classes and schools
Some children with moderate cognitive disabilities are provided with the opportunity for integrated education, but only until grade 4 and only in schools where resource rooms are available – that is, less than 1 out of 10 public schools. Efforts toward inclusive or integrated education have yet to include children with severe cognitive disabilities, whose only option for education remains the handful of special education centres run by non-government organizations. Finally, Article 41 of the 2004 Palestine Child Law calls on states to establish classes, schools and centres for those with disabilities that are connected to public education, and that are close to their places of residence and accessible to reach.
The MEHE has established three resource centres in Gaza and the West Bank with five specialists allocated to each of them. Additionally, 108 resource rooms have been established in schools, each with a specialized teacher. Teachers appointed to these resource rooms provide tailored education services in grades 1 to 4 to children with special learning needs and 105 children with low academic achievement, as well as accelerated learning programmes for over-age children. As of January 2017, there were 123 resource rooms across the 1,285 government schools providing different grades of basic education.
Basic services are provided by both the government (for non-refugees) and UNRWA (for refugees), and disability-specific services, ranging from community-based rehabilitation to special education, are most often offered by a crowded field of non-government organizations, usually under contract to the government and UNRWA. The latter administers 12.11% of Palestinian schools. Finally, in the private sector, charitable societies, religious associations and private companies support the MEHE and fund these schools, which constitute 14.6% of all schools in Palestine, including 16.3% in northern governorates and 9.4% in southern governorates.
Article 24 of the Palestinian Constitution states that ‘Every citizen shall have the right to education. It shall be compulsory until at least the end of the basic level. Education shall be free in public schools and institutions.’ In parallel, Article 5 of the 2017 Education Law states that education is compulsory until grade 10. Education is also free in all government public education institutions. Article 4(6) of the Education Law also states that one of the key roles of the Ministry of Education is to create opportunities for students regardless of their differences, inclinations or performance levels, including juvenile delinquents, victims of violence and dropouts as a result of their social conditions.
According to the 2018 UNICEF report on out-of-school children, ‘improving the overall quality of education has been a core component of the MoEHE’s second and third education development strategies (EDSP), and remains central to ongoing reform efforts. The MoEHE’s Teacher Education Strategy (TES) introduced under the second EDSP, the ongoing curriculum reform introduced under the third EDSP, and the recent efforts on Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE), are three notable interventions in this regard.’
In terms of policies and plans, the 2015 inclusive education policy lays out the various laws that govern and reinforce the right to inclusive education in Palestine. In 1994, the MEHE adopted ‘Education for All’; in 1997, it adopted ‘inclusive education’, focusing on the inclusion of all marginalized students regardless of their gender, learning difficulty or disability. Finally, the 2017–22 education sector strategic plan aims at ensuring safe, inclusive and equitable enrolment in the education sector at all levels of the system. In this regard, it aims at increasing the rate of integration of students with special needs within a clear national strategy that defines relations with all concerned. The EDSP 3 offers statements that are the foundations of inclusive education. For example, it aims to build up an education system which is accessible, diversified, multiple, flexible, effective, efficient, sustainable, responsive to local needs and qualitative and to use flexible, student-centred approaches to teaching and learning that welcome and adjust to the needs of every learner, regardless of gender, (dis)ability or other status. Moreover, the EDSP 3 aims to make ‘deep structural reforms ranging from the Palestinian curriculum to the further improvement of teacher education to the enhancement of accountability and results-based management.’ Any reform intervention must closely integrate with all main ‘quality’ pillars – assessment, supervision, curriculum and teacher education – of the education system. The EDSP 3 adds that ‘these pillars of education reform do not just form the core of quality education, but are at the heart of developing an inclusive education system.’
Palestine ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2014. Article 4(6) of the 2017 Education Law states that among the key roles of the Ministry of Education is to create education opportunities and opportunities for creativity and innovation for students regardless of their individual differences, inclinations or performance levels, including those with disabilities. In addition, Law 4 of 1999 on the rights of persons with disabilities lays down all rights for persons with disabilities and stipulates that the state is obliged to protect them and to raise awareness about their rights. Additionally, the state is to offer equal opportunity for those with disabilities to join education institutions, with all their various levels and branches offering suitable curricula, methods and qualified teachers.
According to a 2014 report on the status of the rights of Palestinian children, produced by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, ‘The Ministry of Social Affairs has dedicated considerable effort to support children with disabilities through the development of programmes, policies and regulations such as the Disability Law, the amended Palestinian Child Law, the disability card and the ministerial policy paper for the case management of children with disabilities.’ At the time of the report’s publication, there were ‘nine programmes targeting children with disabilities within the Ministry, and nine policies and legislative documents.’
The 2017–22 education sector strategic plan is oriented towards making the necessary changes in education policies and concentrating efforts to serve the deprived categories of society, mainly persons with disabilities, to ensure that no person is deprived of their right to education. This goal has two dimensions: to improve enrolment in all the education stages (preschool, basic, secondary and higher education) and education tracks (vocational track, scientific track and humanities track) and to maintain a balance in enrolment in these tracks.
Palestine acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2014. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs works with the Ministry of Education through its Gender Unit to ensure that gender issues are taken into account in the ministry’s strategies and plans and in achieving justice in all aspects of the MEHE’s work.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The Basic Law, established in 2002, states that Arabic is the official language of Palestine and therefore the language of instruction in schools. Hebrew is learned as a second language from the third grade on and English is added on as a third language for Arabic-speaking pupils. Palestinian language education serves different purposes: ‘Arabic is the language of personal, cultural and national identity; Hebrew is an important language for social mobility, for higher education, and for shared citizenship; English is a global language, and a window on the wider world.’ Palestine voted in favour of adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Poverty and other vulnerabilities
UNRWA schools in the West Bank provide stationery to children whose families are assessed to be in abject poverty, while UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip provide all children with basic stationery. In the past, UNRWA also had a policy in the Gaza Strip by which families were provided ILS 100 per school-age child at the beginning of the school year to cover education-related expenses.
Article 8 of the 2004 Palestine Child Law 7 focuses on the role of the state in caring for children with special needs in education and vocational training to help them gain self-reliance and active participation in society. Its articles 37, 38, 39 and 41 call on the state to offer basic education that is free and compulsory; take all measures to stop school dropout; erase all forms of discrimination that can affect education and employment; create equal opportunity among all children; help children be part of decision-making processes affecting their lives; protect children’s dignity; stop all forms of violence against students; and support students with disabilities to have access to public education.
Article 13 of the 2017 Education Law states that the MEHE is responsible, in collaboration with other specialized entities, for developing mechanisms to detect and discover talented and gifted students.
The Palestinian government adopted diverse strategies for inclusive and child-friendly education and promoting early childhood development with nine UN agencies (FAO, UNDP, UNESCO, UNPF, UNICEF, UNRWA, WFP, WHO, Special Office of the UN Representative).
The MEHE established the Department of Special Education and Inclusive Education in 1997 to serve the needs of children with disabilities. The ministry collaborates with all other ministries (health, social affairs, labour, culture, transportation, communications, planning and finance) to guarantee a comprehensive and integrated multisectoral approach to establish child-friendly and inclusive education. Additionally, it coordinates with all actors in the education sector, including UNRWA, private sector actors and civil service organizations, to create a unified vision and methods to design education initiatives to promote child-friendly and inclusive education. Further, in every directorate, the MEHE creates an inclusive education learning resources centre; the centres are responsible for removing systemic obstacles and fulfilling individual needs and are to play a referral role in relation to other governmental and non-governmental assessments if needed.
Finally, the child protection network, an umbrella network under the Ministry of Social Development’s coordination that brings together different ministries and non-government organizations, is a critical institution for the effective protection of at-risk children. The child protection network uses a case management approach with clear referral processes. Accordingly, a school counsellor who identifies cases of children who are at risk of violence, neglect or abuse is expected to refer these cases to the Ministry of Social Development via the education district offices; a child protection counsellor then follows up on the cases. Similarly, if other members of the child protection network identify a school-age child who is out of school, the MEHE is expected to facilitate the re-integration of this child into school.
Article 14 of the 2017 Education Law states that the MEHE adopts the inclusive education policy by securing the following: 1) specialized education for the most vulnerable students who might suffer from marginalization and exclusion, such as those with disabilities; 2) infrastructure, learning resources and specialized qualified teaching staff; and 3) appropriate curricula and flexible assessment tools that would respond to the individual needs of students to help offer them the appropriate education.
The quality of school infrastructure and the availability of facilities remains a significant challenge for the effective provision of tailored education services within schools, particularly in the Gaza Strip, Area C and East Jerusalem. While commendable efforts to improve school infrastructure have been made since 1994 and have resulted in notable achievements in the West Bank, children in Area C and East Jerusalem have not benefited equally from these improvements due to structural limitations from the occupation.
Climate in schools
The MEHE’s efforts to prevent violence in schools have intensified in recent years, as demonstrated by a national policy of non-violence and discipline in schools issued in 2013, as well as several regulations to address the use of corporal punishment in schools and a plethora of programmes promoting a culture of non-violence in schools.
The MEHE committed to offering a mathematics curriculum for children with visual impairment, which was adopted as a pilot for grades 1 to 3. Similarly, the 2015 National Inclusive Education Policy includes 10 key goals or priority areas, including increasing active participation and improving learning outcomes by using child-centred approaches including curricula, materials and flexible assessment tools. The MEHE also commits to continuing to improve curricula so they are flexible and responsive to students’ needs based on their diverse and varying abilities, skills and capabilities; assessment should also be flexible and based on students’ needs.
Relevant interventions of the 2017–22 education sector strategic plan include the following:
- Completing curricula in line with the needs of students with special needs (males and females) for grades 7 and 8 for two courses of basic education
- Evaluating and developing a curriculum for the secondary education level to ensure that it is in line with the needs of the students (males and females)
- Adapting the vocational education and training curricula for grades 11 and 12 in line with the needs of students with special needs (three courses on average annually)
- Assessing and redeveloping literacy programmes and adult education curricula, in addition to developing new programmes, in line with the needs of Palestinian adults
- Assessing and redeveloping the curricula for adult education, literacy and parallel education in line with the needs of Palestinian adults.
Among the priorities laid out in the 2017–22 education sector strategic plan for the basic education sector is ‘[e]valuating school textbooks in terms of gender-sensitivity and promotion of environment preservation concepts and life skills.’ The MEHE also committed to offering Braille-language books for all levels. In addition, an intervention with a wide outreach involves teachers developing remedial learning plans at the beginning of each academic year for those children who have low academic achievement. Such learning plans may involve providing alternative learning materials to these children, organizing peer-to-peer learning activities or offering remedial classes before, during or after school.
Currently, teachers receive technical support from inclusive education counsellors at the district level, core special education trainers and multidisciplinary teams at three resource centres. However, understaffing is common to all these sources of technical support for tailored education services within schools. There are only 27 inclusive education counsellors across the 16 education districts, only 3 resource centres across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and only 24 core special education trainers and 4 special education advisors in all of the West Bank.
One of the key priority areas of the 2017–22 education sector strategic plan is ‘[t]raining and qualifying human resources working in the educational system.’ The MEHE aims to implement its Teacher Education Strategy for teachers and support staff in cooperation with the World Bank, Amideast and the Palestinian universities and aims to review, analyse and improve the quality of teacher training levels (prior to and during service). It also aims to ensure good pre-service preparation and the potential of continuing professional development and support for all staff. Relevant interventions of the 2017–22 education sector strategic plan include the following:
- Increasing the number of teachers and supervisors (males and females) who are well-qualified for literacy, adult education and parallel education programmes, as per the standards of the Teacher Education Strategy
- Developing standards for qualification of literacy and parallel education teachers in line with the standards of the Teacher Education Strategy, as well as increasing the number of qualified teachers at literacy and parallel education centres annually
- Qualifying all supervisors and exchange of experiences among supervisors, administrators and technicians (both males and females) at state-run literacy, adult and parallel education centres.
In parallel, the 2015 National Inclusive Education Policy sets out to develop a cadre of teachers, support staff and school administrators and offer them the practical skills and knowledge needed to implement child-friendly and inclusive education. It also commits to working with teachers and support staff so they can provide support to schools in dealing with students with special needs and gifted students.
In 2015, Palestine produced an Annual Narrative Progress Report. Several of the indicators listed for and employed by the MEHE’s annual Monitoring and Evaluation Report include measuring levels of inclusiveness. For instance, the indicator related to school infrastructure entails measuring the ‘Degree of appropriateness of a preschool building and its achievement of standards in building, educational games and tools, and furniture’.
There are also several additional mentions of various efforts to evaluate and report some of the progress made in inclusive education. For instance, according to a 2017 MEHE report, the EDSP 3 was reviewed and aligned using the ministry monitoring and evaluation system indicators with the participation of all stakeholders, including government and non-government organizations, community-based organizations, higher education institutions, international organizations and supporters of the education sector. It is worth noting that, similarly, other Palestinian sectors had also started preparing sectoral plans. However, it was not possible to access those resources, such as technical reports, through the extensive online searches conducted.