According to the 2011 Inclusive Education Policy, inclusive education is defined as a process of change, within which schools recognize the diversity and different educational needs of all children as well as of all members of the school community. Inclusive education does not admit any discrimination or segregation on grounds of gender, geographical location, economic background, level of ability, religious beliefs, impairment or disability.
Special education needs
As defined in the 2011 Inclusive Education Policy, students with special learning needs are those learners who are not developing to their full educational potential or are at risk of not being able to follow the Cook Islands curriculum. In particular, children with special educational needs are learners with sensorial impairments (auditory or visual), intellectual impairments (ranging from Cognitive delay to Gifted students), physical impairments, learner with behavioural differences and/or with communication differences, students with chronic health ailments or injuries, and children and youth with multiple disabilities. Students whose results are academically below their peers or who are geographically isolated are considered at risk.
The 2011 Inclusive Education policy ensures that all school-aged children are educated with their peers in mainstream Early Childhood Education (ECE) centers, primary and secondary schools. No learner is expected to be exempted from school due to their ability or lack of capacity. School principals are encouraged to organize tailored programmes catering for children’s individual learning needs. Schools are required to have intervention plans, including monitoring, evaluation and review of special needs and/or at risk students’ progress.
In the country, there are 30 schools, of which 12 are established on the permanently populated islands. Most schools are public with the exception of five church and three private schools.
So-called satellite schools have been established in isolated villages in small islands to offer early education, while older students commute to larger schools in a more central location on a daily basis.
There are education institutions providing education for adults, such as the Creative Centre that functions as a private school for the education and rehabilitation of people with a medium to high level of disability.
Early identification, screening and assessment
To ensure an accurate identification of special needs, the 2011 Inclusive Education Policy aims to implement a regular assessment across all schooling years. Procedures for the early assessment and identification were expected to be implemented at pre-school level by multi-professional teams, consisting of health and education experts. It calls for formulating a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to regulate the sharing of resources and of the personnel involved in the identification, assessment and diagnostic tests and processes.
The 1964 Constitution of the Cook Islands, as amended din 2004, prohibits any discrimination on grounds of race, national origin, colour, religion, opinion, belief, or sex (art. 64.1), but it does not explicitly recognize the right to education to all. The 2012 Education Act lays the legal foundations of the education system. It ensures that everyone is treated with dignity, respect and understanding, consistent with the Convention on the Right of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (art. 3(f)). The act lays down the right to education for every resident in the country, and admits exceptions for children with special needs who have not developed their potentials or are at risk of not achieving the curriculum objectives due to learning or behavioral difficulties (art. 24.1(4)). As part of the Learning for Life - Cook Islands Education Master Plan 2008-2023, the 2016 Equity, Access and Participation Policy, expected to be reviewed in 2019, also reaffirms the right to access to and participation in “quality, appropriate and timely educational experiences”, regardless of social, cultural, economic, intellectual or physical status.
Acknowledging that certain children might be marginalized and/or segregated within and by the system, the 2011 Inclusive Education Policy introduced a new education system based on inclusiveness and the special educational needs of some categories of learners, overcoming the approach endorsed by the 2002 Special Needs Education Policy. The latter had rather a narrower view, only focusing on students with disabilities. The new Policy aims to create a fair and equitable school system based on acceptance and achieving beneficial education for all.
The 2008 Disability Act regulates the rights of persons with disabilities, defining the group and containing non-discrimination provisions in general and related to employment. It does not contain specific reference to education, but the regulation of educational institutions accessibility. The need to address education building accessibility was also reiterated in the 2016 Equity, Access and Participation Policy.
In line with the international and regional commitments, such as Biwako Millennium Framework for Action Towards a Barrier-free, Rights-based and Inclusive Society for All in Asia and the Pacific endorsed in 2003, the Cook Islands adopted the National Policy on Disability and National Action Plan 2003-2008. It provided an innovative definition of disability, which departed from individual impairments to the impact of environmental barriers and communities’ attitudes. It also recognized the need to develop and disseminate Sign Language, Braille, finger Braille and other forms of communication. Following the annual Disability Action Team Conference, consisting in representatives of non-governmental organizations, of people with disabilities and government agencies from New Zealand, and the ratification of the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2007, the policy document was reviewed. According to the review, education objectives were achieved thanks to the training of teacher aids and the promotion of inclusive education throughout the country. Based on the review, the National Policy on Disability and National Action Plan 2008-2012 sets out new priorities, including strengthening early intervention programmes, paying increasing attention to vulnerable groups, such as women and girls with disabilities, and encouraging collaboration among government agencies involved in the provision of integrated services.
The 2012 Education Act specifically states that a student cannot be exempt from compulsory education because of pregnancy. Against this backdrop, a certain level of flexibility is guaranteed to young mothers, while counselling services are made available to support them.
The 2011 National Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment promotes gender responsibility in the government’s programmes and policies, including in the education sector. In line with the UNESCO Education 2030 mandate, the 2016 Equity, Access and Participation Policy aims to achieve greater gender equity in all forms of education in terms of resources as well as retention and achievement of young men in learning programmes.
While the Ministry of Education seeks to bridge the gap in girls’ access to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) through the Education Master Plan, the expansion of alternative learning opportunities intends to increase retention in particular of boys.
In practice, the Women in Science and Technology (WISAT) programme is an example of an initiative implemented to create opportunities for exchange between young women at school to meet women working in science and technology. Likewise, the Boys Zone programme has been targeted at male students involving male journalists, teachers and other social sector professionals.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Cook Islands Maori language was recognized as an official language in 2005. Considerable efforts have been made to develop dictionaries and printed materials in order to provide Maori reading resources and preserve the language.
A dedicated curriculum has been developed to teach Cook Islands Maori language at 1-8 education levels. In order to preserve the unique linguistic and cultural characteristics of small islands, a tool was introduced in 2007 to assess and identify literacy levels of learners in the use of dialects of Cook Islands Maori.
Within the Learning for Life - Cook Islands Education Master Plan 2008-2023, Te Peu e Te Akonoanga Maori Policy aims to promote Cook islands’ values, traditions and knowledge and to protect and transmit Te Peu e Te Akonoanga Maori to future generations. Education providers need to recognize and value the importance of cultural diversity and implement relevant pedagogical methods to include Te Peu e te Akonoanga Maori. These principles are expected to inform learning and teaching approaches, language and identity integrity and preservation, social responsibility and participation.
People living in remote and rural areas
The Correspondence School programmes from New Zealand have historically been utilized for isolated schools; however, limitations persist linked to availability of learning materials and the timeliness of transport. As alternative education option, an e-learning on line programme, the Te Kura Uira, provides the opportunities to teachers and tutors located on the main island to teach groups of students on multiple other islands simultaneously through the use of audio and video conferencing. At ECE or early school years, the satellite schools programme covers the needs of isolated communities.
To continue with senior secondary school on Rarotonga, students need to travel to another island. This is supported through the Outer Island Assistance Grant (OIAG), a grant scheme paid to families who are willing to host students during the school term. Travel costs are covered and a small allowance provided.
The 2011 Inclusive Education Policy recognizes that some children in the Cook Islands have been disadvantaged by their geographical location, especially children in the outer islands and living in the northern group. They are considered learners with special educational needs or at risk and addressed accordingly. The Learning for Life - Cook Islands Education Master Plan 2008-2023 aims to improve education services and infrastructure, especially for those attending distance learning schools, such as students in the Pa Enua at secondary education level.
Early childhood education and primary education are free of charge from the age of 3 and of 5, respectively. Junior Secondary Education (years 7-10) is also free of charge and compulsory to the age of 16. Financial support is provided through the scholarships programme to access formal tertiary education. Scholarship and student assistance support schemes are implemented through Te Reinga Akatuanga’anga and the Cook Islands Tertiary Support Programme.
Coordination across sectors
According to the holistic approach to child development, a memorandum of understanding among the Ministry of Education and the Ministries of Health and Internal Affairs, responsible for children and youth and for persons with a disability, was planned to be drafted in order to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to the inclusion of children with special learning needs.
An Inclusive Education Advisory Committee was expected to be set up to oversee and direct the implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy, while the Ministry of Education remains responsible for school accessibility, for the supply of trained teacher aides, for informing the community and providing alternative education for learners who cannot be included in regular classrooms.
In line with the aspirations of collaboration in the Learning for Life - Cook Islands Education Master Plan 2008-2023, the 2016 dedicated policy to Governance, Management and Planning aims to make educational governance more responsive, participatory and accountable. The 2011 Inclusive Education Policy calls for collaboration with relevant government departments, including ministries of Health and Internal Affairs, and non-government organisations and specialists, such as Punanga Tauturu, Disabled Persons International, deaf and blind societies, Disabilities Committees, to provide quality services and support to children with special learning needs.
Coordination across government levels
Within Cook Islands’ education system, each school has its own School Committee, responsible for making decisions on individual school policy, strategic plans and annual goals.
The 2016 Governance, Management and Planning policy intends to make more effective and transparent communication, including reviews of local and central roles in service provision, and increased community voice and participation in education governance.
Infrastructure accessibility for persons with disabilities has been legally set out in Part 4 of the 2008 Disability Act and in the reviewed Cook Islands National Building Code. The 2003 Disability policy also contained a specific section on improving access to buildings and public places, as inaccessibility was identified as one of the major barriers that prevented people with disabilities from actively participating in social and economic activities.
The Cook Islands Curriculum supports the implementation of an inclusive curriculum in all schools, addressing special needs, different abilities and disabilities of all students. Alternative or modified learning programmes are made available for students who may not be able to participate in mainstream classes. A thematic unit is responsible for the design of differentiated activities to cater for special learning needs of all learners. Within the Curriculum Advisory Unit, an Inclusive Education Adviser in Rarotonga and one in the northern group supervise the implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy in the unit’s activity.
Learning materials and ICTs
Within the Curriculum Advisory Unit, a resource centre maintains up to date inclusive education materials on teaching pedagogies and teaching learning process and other resources- including assistive devices and specific equipment. Assistive Technologies, including netbooks and other devices are also integrated as support into the learning programmes.
Producing appropriate culturally sensitive, gender inclusive, and balanced resources and supporting inclusive education environments are also objectives of the Learning for Life - Cook Islands Education Master Plan 2008-2023.
The Teachers Training College is responsible to ensure that inclusive education practices are an integral part and special education course a compulsory module of the pre-service teacher training programme.
In-service teacher training opportunities are provided through mixed modalities, including distance learning and face-to-face intensive courses offered at University of the South Pacific, with funding from Department of National Human Resource Development’s Tertiary Assistance Programme. Training on inclusive education practices and approached is expected to be provided through school based professional development sessions. In particular, the 2011 Inclusive Education Policy aims to integrate within in-service education programme training modules on, among others, focused observation and critical Reflection, child development understanding, early Identification and intervention, remedial teaching strategies, strategies for teaching children with disabilities.
Professional development programmes on disability are in place to address the educational needs of children with disabilities in schools. For example, the training programme Towards Inclusive Education in The Cook Islands intended to train on the differences between special needs and inclusive education.
Under the supervision of a teacher, teacher aids support education provision at all education levels for students with special learning and teaching needs. Having received a specialist training, teacher aids assists teachers with the implementation of the individual education programme (IE). As part of a special education teams, which includes parents, caregivers and specialists, the role of teachers aids might vary according to the teaching setting.
Where necessary and possible, educational psychologist and/or other professionals, such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and doctors are part of the special education teams supporting inclusive education.
Cook islands provide regular education statistical reports.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for collecting data on national enrollment and teacher qualification. The section on inclusive education reports data on Teacher Aides by Gender and Region.