The comprehensive concept of inclusive education is relatively new to Kiribati. Up to recently, inclusive education has primarily been concerned with providing access to education for children with disabilities while now it means that “all school-aged children are enrolled in and regularly attending school and receiving quality education programmes suited to their age and which are catering to their individual learning needs” (p. 13). In Kiribati, inclusive education also means that “school systems, strategic plans, policies and practices adapt to include education strategies and teaching materials, methods and environments for a wide and diverse range of children and their families” (p. 41). In this regard, inclusive education aims “to identify a child’s learning needs and then adapt the classroom and teaching to ensure high-quality learning outcomes for all members of the class” (p. 41). In the Education Act 2013, the principle of inclusive education means that “a child of compulsory school age with a disability or is above the school compulsory age, must, where practicable, be enrolled in and attend a school, and be given the opportunity to participate together with the other students of the school in the education and extra-curricular activities offered by the school” (art. 19).
Special Education Needs
Special educational needs, in relation to a student with a disability, means the “student's need for education to be tailored to suit the student's individual requirements, and to receive other forms of support and assistance, in order to maximise the student's academic and social development” (p. 4).
Children with disabilities in Kiribati, particularly in the outer islands, have often been excluded from school. The Kiribati Improvement Education Plans notes that recent initiatives are consistent with a twin-track approach.
The Education Act 2013 (No. 12 of 2013) states that children of compulsory school age with a disability or children above the school compulsory age, must, where practicable, “be enrolled in and attend a school, and be given the opportunity to participate together with the other students of the school in the education and extra-curricular activities offered by the school” (p. 7). It also states that these children must not be excluded from access to free primary and junior secondary education based on disability or age. Six inclusive schools (model inclusion schools, p.12) were established in South Tarawa in 2016. These schools receive support from the Kiribati Education Improvement Programme in inclusive education practices, access to assistive devices and inclusive teaching resources and access to a range of initiatives to support the mainstream inclusion of children with a disability. The Kiribati Development Plan (2016-2019) aims to ensure that 50% of students with disabilities are enrolled in regular schools.
The Education Act 2013 (No. 12 of 2013) states that the Minister “may establish centres for special education for children of compulsory school age with disabilities, or children above the school compulsory age” (art.19 p. 7).
According to the Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan (2018-2021), many I-Kiribati with disabilities, particularly in the outer islands, have “never been to school, left school early or attend erratically” (p. 13). In the report Operational Research on Disability and Inclusive Education in Kiribati, Jolly and Rokete (2012), state that “very few of the mainstream schools visited were able to identify any children with disabilities in their school system, and if so they were very often mild impairments” (in Yates et al., p. 13). That said, Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs is the only school in Kiribati that provides services to children with disabilities. Currently, this Centre established in 1991 educates over 230 children. Sign language and Braille are taught. Whenever possible, the school uses I-Kiribati's approved curricula.
Kiribati has not ratified the UN Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) and the Constitution of Kiribati of 1979 does not enshrine the right to education. However, the Constitution defines the expression “discriminatory”, which means “affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, place of origin, political opinions, colour or creed whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject or are accorded privileges or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description".
The Education Ordinance (Cap 29 of the Laws of Kiribati) of 1979 provides the main legal framework for the provision and monitoring of education services in the country. It states that education is compulsory and free for all children in primary and junior secondary schools. The commitment by the Government to inclusive education has evolved. The Education Act 2013 (No. 12 of 2013) states that a child cannot be refused enrolment at a school based on his or her sex, religion, race or disability.
Improved basic education is a priority of the Kiribati-Australia Partnership for Development and the Aid Investment Plan Kiribati: 2015-16 to 2018-19. The Government of Kiribati and the Government of Australia are committed to improving the quality of basic education through the Kiribati Education Improvement Programme (KEIP).
An Inclusive education policy has been approved by the Parliament in 2015. The Kiribati Education Sector–Strategic Plan (ESSP) 2016–2019 included a major goal, “effective implementation of the [Kiribati] Inclusive Education Policy”, as one of its nine main goals whereby “this policy will see improved access to and participation in education for many children and young people who cannot access or participate yet in mainstream schools”. The Development plan 2016-2019 aims to effectively implement the Inclusive Education Policy “to target children with disabilities and communicate and gain community acceptance of the policy of mainstreaming children wherever appropriate”. The efforts have largely focused on disability inclusion with a less visible emphasis on other target groups. In this regard, the Report of the Independent Review of the Kiribati Disability Inclusive Development Programme (2017) states that “Kiribati is implementing its disability-inclusive policy including through improved access to and quality of disability-specific services” (p. iv).
Kiribati ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2013 and the Government reaffirmed its commitment to this Convention in the Kiribati Development Plan 2016-2019 which targets people with disabilities in priority areas 1 (Education) and through the areas of human resource development and poverty reduction, targeting those who are vulnerable and from minority groups. The CRPD has also been reflected in the Education Bill (2013), Kiribati Building Code (2015), the Education Act (2013), the Inclusive Education Policy (2015, link not available) and Kiribati Development Plan 2015–2016 and 2016-2019. Kiribati has also acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which recognizes the right of girls and boys with disabilities to quality education.
The Constitution does not specifically refer to disabilities, but states that all citizens, including those with disabilities, are intended to be protected from being treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by any public official. Also, by 2021, the government has committed to developing a National Disability Inclusion Act to enshrine protection against discrimination of citizens with disabilities in legislation. With respect to policies and plans, the Government released the Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan 2018 – 2021 (KNDP) in 2018. The policy “was driven by people with disabilities working with government, donor partners and community organisations and provides an overarching vehicle to coordinate, drive, monitor and report on the progress of initiatives nationally progressing the rights of people with disabilities” (p. 4). In addition, disability inclusion is one of the seven goals within the Kiribati Education Sector Strategic Plan 2016-19 (link not available). Moreover, the Development plan 2016-2019 aims to improve sport and physical activity participation for youth and people with disabilities and the Kiribati National Mental Health Policy 2016-2020 aims to protect the human rights of people with psychosocial disabilities.
The Early Childhood Care and Education Act 2017 notes that “For service providers, they must not discriminate children and they must enrol children with disabilities where their capacity as well as their premises, equipment and infrastructure is able to accommodate the special needs of children with disabilities”. However, the document “A child living with disabilities” mentions that “any approved provider may be permitted to refuse service to a child with disability in the case where the approved provider, after taking any necessary steps to ﬁnd means of accommodating the special needs of the child in the service, the approved provider, premise or associated equipment and infrastructure cannot reasonably cater for the special needs of the child”.
Kiribati ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) in 2004. In addition, the Shared Implementation Plan to Eliminate Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Kiribati (2013, link not available) proposed a framework for addressing harassment, discrimination and violence-supportive practices and promoting school cultures of respect, equality and non-violence. Finally, gender stereotyping has been considered in the revised National Curriculum.
Several initiatives have accelerated progress to gender equality in and through education. For instance, gender equality messaging has been incorporated into leadership training for IECs and ALs. The MoE National Executive Leadership Standards Framework competency includes reference to positive organisational culture, including attention to counselling and support services. The framework also promotes inclusion through school councils for girls and boys, women in decision-making positions and safety programmes for girls. The MoE National Teacher Service Standards Framework supports school leaders and teachers with a focus on gender equality issues and gender-sensitive leadership in schools.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Article 15 of the Constitution on the Protection from discrimination on the ground of race, etc. provides that "no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect” and that “no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority”.
A new language policy was adopted in 2014, which transitions from TeKiribati to English in Year Three. In line with the new language policy and research, children are now starting school in their first language. In addition, initiatives to strengthen English language skills continue, in particular for students who wish to continue their studies in educational institutions abroad and for teachers who wish to enrol in a vocational education programme. The demonstration of English proficiency will be a requirement for the new regulations for teacher registration.
Article 11 of the Constitution states that “no religious community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community”, but also that “except with his own consent, no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction".
The Kiribati Program Poverty Assessment (2014) identifies specific programmes aimed at alleviating poverty and promoting equity of access to basic services as well as to give all children access to quality primary education by 2020. This includes free primary and junior secondary education, subsidisation of public secondary schools and financial support to church-run secondary schools. The aid programme also aims to increase the opportunities available for citizens through equipping young people with basic education and access to technical and vocational training.
Kiribati has not ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951).
The Ministry of Education through the Kiribati Education Fund and their partners are implementing the Inclusive Education Policy with an Inclusive Education Working Group monitoring its progress. Both the Inclusive Education Policy and the Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan (2018-2021) aim to develop partnerships between the Ministry of Education, people the disabilities and teachers from the special education system, “to enable expertise and resources to be shared in the provision of inclusive education opportunities” (p. 30). In this regard, the Ministry of Education works in close cooperation with the local Disabled People’s Organisation, Te Toa Matoa (TTM), which is now participating in policy development with Ministries. Thus, the Ministry of Employment and Human Resources developed an Implementation Plan for the MEHR Disability Inclusive Policy 2015- 2020. The Kiribati National Disability Policy And Action Plan 2018-2021 and the inclusive education policy aim to strengthen the capacity of the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs (KSCCSN) (p.13).
An Educational Advisory Committee makes recommendations, advises and assists the Ministry of Education on the formulation of plans and policies for the development of education. In addition, thirteen education coordinators support the quality of education in each school on the outer Islands. They have received training on the principles of inclusive education. Last but not least, an Inclusive Education Working Group which includes representatives from a range of government ministries, TTM and other specialists in inclusive education, initiates and advises on inclusive education initiatives across the country.
Furthermore, through the Kiribati Disability Inclusive Development Programme (2017), the Senior Disability Inclusive Development Officer is the focal point for disability policy development and implementation within Government, “raising awareness of disability issues and increasing its profile and importance” (p. iv). That said, the Ministry of Women Youth and Social Affairs (MWYSA) is responsible for leading, coordinating, monitoring and reporting on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) actions and obligations, but works closely with the Ministry of Education in this regard.
Finally, the Australian Aid provided the funding of inclusive education initiatives and direction of programmes through the externally managed Kiribati Education Facility (KEF). This support “has provided advocacy for the inclusion of all students, particularly children with disabilities, which had not been given much attention in the past. As a result, there is a growing commitment to inclusive education particularly at the Ministry of Education level” (p. 11).
Education Ordinance (1977) states “the Minister may establish, maintain, develop and conduct schools, institutions and other educational facilities and may discontinue any such school, institution or educational facility”. The National Building Code (2015, link not available) was also amended to require all new public buildings to be disability-inclusive and accessible. In parallel, the Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan (2018-2021) aims to make accessible more public infrastructure to all and, more specifically to people with disabilities. It also aims to rollout donor sponsored programmes to rehabilitate all education facilities and buildings to make them accessible to all. Furthermore, the Kiribati Education Improvement Programme (KEIP) focuses on infrastructure improvements in South Tarawa. In addition, the National Infrastructure Standards in the Kiribati National Building Code (KNBC) were also updated in 2015 to require all new buildings to meet universal design standards and ensure accessibility to all and the Building Act was adopted in 2006.
That said, improvements have been made to school infrastructure to address gender and disability requirements, for instance, toilets have been positioned in secure locations. However, the majority of the schools are currently physically largely inaccessible to people with mobility restrictions related to physical disabilities, blindness and vision impairment.
The Kiribati Development Plan (2016-2019) aimed to implement a strategy to integrate emerging developments in ICT into the curriculum. In parallel, the Kiribati Curriculum Development Resource Centre aims to integrate disability considerations into all aspects of the school curriculum, mainstreaming positive images and stories of people with disabilities. In addition, the Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan (2018-2021) stipulates that efforts should be made to revise the curriculum to include more proactive and positive messaging around girls that challenges existing stereotypes. At last, the Ministry of Education Exams and Assessment Unit makes reasonable adjustments “to ensure national exams are accessible to students with a disability”. For instance, this can be done through the provision of Word format exams, the use of a computer with a screen reader, large print format exams and additional reading and writing time.
Gender stereotyping, climate change and disaster risk reduction (DRR) have also been considered in the revised National Curriculum and Assessment Framework and the ongoing curriculum. Curriculum materials, including teacher guides and learning materials, better represent gender equality both in imagery, language and focus. The inclusion of skills and knowledge from the respectful relationship programme is being included into the year 8 and 9 curriculum subjects of Moral Education, Social Science and Health.
The Kiribati Development Plan (2016-2019) aimed to implement a strategy to integrate emerging developments in ICT into curriculum and school operations. Similarly, the Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan (2018-2021) aims to develop educational scripts and materials to raise disability awareness among people in the country. It also aims to develop educational materials are developed in accessible formats to ensure better gender equality and inclusion. In this respect, the Curriculum Development and Resource Centre (CDRC) has also reviewed primary school curriculum materials with a gender lens. Finally, since 2018, basic sign language has been included in schools using the new Kiri-Sign dictionary.
The Ministry of Education National Executive Leadership Standards Framework competency supports school leaders and teachers with a focus on gender equality issues and gender-sensitive leadership in schools. In this regard, annual “Inclusive Education Showcase Conferences” have also been held and key stakeholders reported on the implementation of their action plans that responded to the prevention of gender-based violence in the community.
In addition, the Kiribati Education Improvement Programme (KEIP) supports the implementation of in-service teacher workshops and the development and delivery of a Certificate III Teacher Assistant course. Since 2014, training sessions have been conducted with the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs (KSCCSN) on the right of people with disabilities to education. In addition, awareness workshops on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) have been held with ministry officials, teachers and other education staff, people with disabilities; and councillors and mayors including those on the outer islands. Furthermore, ongoing mentoring has been provided to the Ministry of Education staff on accessible digital media. The Kiribati Teachers’ College TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) curriculum was also reviewed in 2016 to ensure inclusion issues are addressed. Disability awareness and inclusion training are being provided to all principals and Education Coordinators on the island in 2018.
The Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan (2018-2021) also provided funding for training on inclusive education. Learnings from that workshop linked to the design of KEIP Phase 3 which includes a strong commitment to inclusive education as an outcome.
An inclusive teaching strategies resource developed in partnership with the KEIP, the Ministry of Education, Te Toa Matoa (TTM) and education coordinators was released in 2017 included appropriate teaching strategies to support the inclusion of children with a disability.
With KEIP support, an accredited Certificate III Teacher Assistant one-year course has been developed with KTC and offered in 2018. The aim wil be to encourage the recruitment of these assistant teachers into model schools once they graduate. These will be the first teachers to have specific training to work with children living with a disability, including the ability to develop IEPs (p.33).
The Kiribati National Disability Policy and Action Plan (2018-2021) aims to improve the data coordination, collection and analysis across all educational systems. It also aims to develop a database to capture gender-disaggregated data on the attendance, performance and outcomes for students with disabilities in all educational settings. Currently, there are different reports that are published by the government to monitor inclusive education: Kiribati Development Plan; Sector reports; School committee reports; School Enrolment Reports submitted to Inclusive Education Coordinator; Kiribati Institute of Technology reports; reports to donors and UN Convention reporting.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for the Education Sector Strategic Plan identifies indicators to enhance disability monitoring, including the number of children with disabilities accessing school by disability type, age, location and gender. The Ministry of Education school survey form used for the annual collection of Education Management Information System (EMIS) data has also been revised to capture details about classroom accessibility and the availability of accessible toilets. However, the current data lacks unique student identifiers, which prevents the Ministry of Education from disaggregating other data by disability. Finally, in the 2015 national census reports, neither attendance figures nor overall incidence figures for children with disabilities were reported. KEIP’s Monitoring and Evaluation Framework also refers to the inclusion of children with a disability in relation to the end of programme level (EOPO) i.e. learning outcome and at the intermediate outcome level, that is IMO 5 “Improved teaching and assessment of all struggling students including children with a disability” (p.52). KEMIS is unable to provide student-level data on disability.