The Rights of Persons with Disability Act (2015) defines inclusive education, as an “education system that embraces a set of values, principles and practices that seek meaningful, effective and quality education for all students and nurtures and encourages the diversity of learning conditions and requirements not only of children with disabilities, but of all students” (p. 17).
Special education and special education needs
The MIPSSA (Marshall Island Public School System Act) defines “special education” as the “instruction, programs or related services specifically designed or provided to assist children with disabilities in responding to or promoting equal educational programs and opportunities for all children” (p. 618). The Act provides guidelines to support the inclusion of all students “especially those who are educationally disadvantaged or who have special educational needs, including but not limited to counseling, guidance, health education and related services and programs to help students develop academically, personally and socially” (p. 622).
The Rights of Persons with Disability Act (2015) enshrines the right to inclusive education. It aims to support disability-inclusive development and effective development partner collaboration and coordination in support of Government efforts to promote disability inclusive development.
There are two Deaf Education Centres, one in Majuro, established in 2013, and one in Ebeye, established in 2014, for students who are deaf or deaf-blind.
The Marshall Islands has not ratified the UN Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960), but ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) in 1993.
The 1979 Constitution of the Republic of Marshall Islands, amended in 2005, enshrines the right to education for all in its Article II, Section 15. Article II, Section 12 states that "all persons are equal under the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the laws” and that “no law and no executive or judicial action shall, either expressly, or in its practical application, discriminate against any person on the basis of gender, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, place of birth, family status or descent” (p. 7). The Constitution does not specifically list disabilities as prohibited ground for discrimination.
The Child Rights Protection Act, 2015 states that “every child has the right to education which would develop his/her cultural knowledge, intellect, abilities, views, moral and social responsibility” (p. 8).
The country does not have an inclusive education policy, but adopted the National Policy on Disability Inclusiveness Development (2014-2018), which aims to “provide a comprehensive framework for improving the quality of life of person with disabilities”. The Special Education programme develops an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for each student, which is followed by the special education teacher assigned to that student. The program adopts a flexible approach to providing support to students. The National Youth Policy (2009-2014) sets out priorities for youth, covering seven policy areas including education.
The Marshall Islands ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
The Rights of Persons with Disability Act (2015) aims “to declare the equal rights and freedoms of all persons with disabilities and provide for the protection, promotion and enforcement of those rights and freedoms” (p. 5). According to this Act, disability “includes a long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with various attitudinal and environmental barriers, may hinder full and effective participation of a person in society on an equal basis with others” (p. 7). Section 16 on the Right to education states that “persons with disabilities have a right to education without discrimination and are entitled to quality and inclusive education as a measure of their inherent dignity and their right to equality, non-discrimination, the full development of their talents and creativity, and their effective and equal participation in society” (p. 16). In addition, “a person must not be denied admission, whether directly or indirectly, to any public or non-public school or other educational or training establishment, on the basis of an actual or perceived physical, sensory, mental, intellectual or psychosocial impairment” (p. 17). Finally, the Act states that “persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation of their individual needs”. These accommodations include, but are not limited to:
- “physical access to classrooms and other school buildings and facilities, accessible transport, and alternative modes of instruction and educational materials, including Braille and sign language;
- adequate support measures, including learning support assistants;
- adjustment of entry requirements, curriculum examinations and pass marks;
- instruction by teachers trained in inclusive education and qualified to teach alternative modes of instruction including Braille and sign language.” (p. 17).
The National Policy on Disability Inclusiveness Development was drafted in 2013 and aims for the Marshall islands to “become a barrier-free society that respects the rights of all persons with disabilities by empowering, including and providing them with the means of achieving their rights” (p. 27).
The Child Protection Policy (2014) mentions that all teachers and staff must treat children with respect regardless of disability. Children with disabilities are dependent on their teachers to care for and protect them.
Finally, the Marshall Islands receives funds under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (U.S. federal education government) for services to special education students.
The Marshall Islands ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). It also enacted the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act in 2012 and drafted the National Gender Mainstreaming Policy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. This Policy aims to advance gender equality and ensure women have an enabling environment to enjoy their human rights, including education. It pursues the objective of expanding boys’ and girls’ access to higher levels of education and vocational and technical training. It also aims to engage adolescents and youth as strategic actors for ending the cycle of violence “through the implementation of educational programs based on gender equality and human rights” (p. 13). At last, the Women United Together Marshall Islands NGO was established in 1987, and aims to empower women, including through education.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
English and Marshallese are the official languages of the Marshall Islands. The MIPSSA (Marshall Island Public School System Act) states that instruction in the Marshallese language, custom culture and history “shall be compulsory, and shall be provided at all preschool level schools, elementary level schools, secondary levels schools” (p. 623). Also, all secondary level students in the Republic are required to pass an examination on the Marshallese language, custom, culture and history, in order to obtain a secondary education diploma or certificate, “except for students who are not in the system for three (3) years” (p. 623). In addition, Section 317 of the Education Act (1991) states that the Department of Education must develop a course on the Marshallese language, traditions, culture and history, to be known as Marshallese Studies. Instruction is provided in English and the Marshallese language.
The Child Rights Protection Act (2015) states that “children belonging to national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities shall be protected from neglect, abuse, maltreatment, and exploitation. In particular, it shall be prohibited to restrict or exclude the child from full, active, and effective participation and inclusion in society; and deny opportunities for education, development, health, and self-realization equal to those of children not belonging to a minority group” (p. 10).
People living in rural or remote areas
The Education for All (2015) report highlights that due to the small size of many schools on the Outer Islands and Atolls, teachers are often required to teach unfamiliar subjects in multi-grade classrooms, and to students with diverse educational needs, without the necessary training. In addition, students attending schools in more remote locations are disadvantaged in terms of high transportation costs and delays in receiving on-site technical assistance. Furthermore, the Report also states that training programmes for teachers tend to be located in urban centres, which limits access for teachers in the Outer Island/Atoll schools. There is no set policy for this group of learners in official documents.
The Rights of Persons with Disability Act (2015) aims to promote disability-inclusive development as part of a rights-based approach to development and poverty reduction. The MIPSSA (Marshall Island Public School System Act) refers to the school meal programme and states that “the Commissioner through the Board may assist any community in establishing a school meal program under such rules and regulations as the Board may promulgate” (p. 625). In addition, the Commissioner through the Board shall establish a meal program for all schools having dormitory facilities.
The 1979 Constitution of the Republic of Marshall Islands, amended in 2005, states in Article V, Section I, (3)(h) that "the Cabinet shall be responsible for establishing and maintaining such public schools and for making such other provision as may be reasonable and necessary to provide educational opportunities for the people of the Marshall Islands" (p. 22).
The Disability Coordination Office provides support for the Marshall Islands Disabled Persons’ Organization (MIDPO), which includes assistance in accessing funding. MIDPO promotes and protects the rights and interests of persons with disabilities and serves as the central point to combine efforts for disabled persons in all of the Marshall Islands. To this end, MIDPO coordinates its efforts and works hand in hand with the RMI Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Public Service System and the Marshall Islands Disability Task Force.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for treating mental and physical disabilities, while the public school system is responsible for supporting special education for children with disabilities. It also provides visits to sick children in their home, and a range of other services for children and young people aged 0 to 21 years.
The US Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides technical assistance for entities providing Special Education Services. The Republic of Marshall Islands Special Education Programme under the Ministry of Education, Sports and Training reports annually to the US Office of Special Education Programme. The Special Education Program aims to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities.
The MIPSSA (Marshall Island Public School System Act) states that the Public School System “may provide suitable transportation to and from school for Special Education, preschool, elementary and secondary students as resources permit” (p. 625). It also states that “in developing such rules, the Public School System shall consider the school attendance area in which a child normally resides; the distance the child lives from the school; [and] the grade level, physically disabled or special learning disability of a child” (p. 625).
The National Gender Mainstreaming Policy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands aims to strengthen “family life education” through the school curriculum.
Learning materials and ICTs
The MIPSSA (Marshall Island Public School System Act) states that the “Board shall establish a textbook committee to review and evaluate textbooks and materials before purchase in order to determine their suitability as may be consistent with economy and desirable within any curriculum differences in the schools of the Republic” (p. 623). The Marshall Islands launched a national ICT policy in 2012, which sets goals and objectives in education and human resource development.
The Education for All (2015) report states that the limited availability of teaching materials is a barrier to ensuring quality education. To address these concerns, the Ministry of Education launched a project with the assistance of the Fiji Volunteer Scheme, to develop a range of lesson plans to be used by teachers in grades 1 to 8. In 2015, data on the impacts of this project were not available.
The Ministry of Education (Teacher Certification) Act (2007) sets the standards by which teachers are to be certified and licensed to teach in the Marshall Islands. The Act does not mention directly or indirectly “inclusive education”. According to the Rights of Persons with Disability Act (2015) persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation of their individual needs, including “instruction by teachers trained in inclusive education and qualified to teach alternative modes of instruction including Braille and sign language” (p. 17).
The National Gender Mainstreaming Policy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands aims to implement a core basic teacher-training program that includes compulsory areas in family life education and the promotion of gender equality and human rights. The Child Protection Policy (2014) mentions that teachers and staff working with children with disabilities are required participate in “induction training that raises their awareness of particular risk factors and provides examples of good practice” (p. 3).
At last, specific skills training services for special education teachers are provided via the Navigating Student Success in the Pacific (NSSP) project. The training focusses on students with severe disabilities and deaf education.
The Rights of Persons with Disability Act (2015) aims to develop improved disability statistics as a basis for evidence-based decision-making on disability. Indeed, according to this Act, the Ministry, on the advice of the Committee, “must collect appropriate information, including reliable and internationally comparable statistical and research data, to enable Government to formulate and implement policies to give effect to the Convention and this Act” (p. 35). In parallel, in its State report to the CRC Committee in 2015, the Government states that its “Special Education Program requires monitoring and reporting for all students who have an Individualised Education Plan (p. 68).
The Ministry of Education, Sports and Training does not currently collect data regarding numbers of persons with disabilities engaged in tertiary education and in primary and secondary education. Completion rates and disaggregated data for these learners are also unavailable.