The 2014 Inclusive Education Policy for Students with Disabilities defines inclusive education as a rights-based approach to education recognizing and realizing all children’s right to education, taking full part in school life and achieving desired outcomes from their education experiences.
Special education needs
As specified in the 2005 Special Needs Education Policy, students with special needs are learners whose health, abilities, performance or behaviour is different from their peers, such as talented and gifted students and children with high learning needs.
A dual system of disability-inclusive education operates through special schools for children with a disability and through the inclusion of learners with disabilities into mainstream education. In particular, education for children with disabilities can be provided:
- Through an individualized learning plan under the supervision of a teacher within a regular classroom
- In special education units and mainstreamed into regular classes
- In regular classrooms with the support of a teacher or a service provider
- In special education institutions with specialized learning support personnel.
Four providers are engaged in special education services: LotoTaumafai Education Centre for the Disabled, PREB – Prevention, Rehabilitation and Education for the Blind, Aoga Fiamalamalama special school and Samoa Inclusive Education Support Services (SENESE). They are mainly concentrated in the capital city and cover all education levels.
Most children with disabilities still receive education services provided by either non-government organizations, such as Loto Taumafai, Fiamalamalama and SENESE, or by private schools, or they remain at home.
The 1960 Constitution of Samoa does not explicitly enshrine the right to education but contains a general equality provision (Art. 15) prohibiting any discrimination ‘on grounds only of descent, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, place of birth, family status, or any of them’ (Art. 15.2). The 2009 Education Act lays legal foundations for the regulation of the country’s education system, establishing compulsory education for all school-aged children in appropriate schooling settings catering for their education needs (Art. 4).
The country identifies quality education and training as one of the main priorities, as highlighted in the in the 2016/17–2019/20 development strategy and further elaborated in the 2006–15 strategic plan for education.
In terms of laws, the 2009 Education Act contains specific provisions on special needs education (division 3), laying down the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate education provision.
At the policy level, the 2006 Special Needs Education Policy acknowledges the inclusion of all students in mainstream education, wherever possible. It defines types of special needs and sets guidelines for identification and assessment, the design of school curriculum, and the learning environment. The policy focus shifted from special needs education to inclusive education in the 2006–15 strategic plan of education, with the objective to develop a national education system able to provide a sustainable quality inclusive education for all.
Between 2004 and 2010, a sub-project of the Pacific Regional Educational Development Initiative, financed by the European Union and the New Zealand Agency for International Development, was implemented by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture, in collaboration with SENESE and other non-government organizations, teachers, families and community members to establish inclusive education. The Samoa Inclusive Education Demonstration Programme was then implemented between 2010 and 2014 with the financial support of the Australian government. The project aimed to pilot a model of inclusive education for girls and boys with disabilities to be scaled up by the country. With the intention of ensuring adequate quality education and access, the programme involved service providers specialized in dealing with children with disabilities.
The development of the Inclusive Education Policy for Students Living with a Disability followed in 2014. The policy provides a framework for the development of inclusive education for students with disabilities up to 21 years of age. Acknowledging the need for consistency across strategies, approaches and structures, the policy intends to ensure education access to children with disabilities through adequately equipped schools, qualified teachers and meaningful learning. However, its full implementation faced various challenges. In line with the new Inclusive Education Policy, the 2013–18 education sector plan called for a review of the 2005 Special Needs Education Policy, the 2009 Education Act and the 2011 National Teacher Development Framework.
In the social sector, the 2011–16 National Policy on Disability set among its objectives the expansion of inclusive and special education programmes through greater classroom support for children with disabilities and through an adequate revision of curricula and materials. Following the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016, the Ministry of Women, Community and Development adopted the 2016–20 National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, integrating the principles of inclusive education and institutionalizing mechanisms to promote its full implementation.
Samoa was the first Pacific island country to adopt of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (without reservation) in 1992. Since then the country has been committed to gender equality.
Aligned with the 2016–21 Community Development Sector Plan, the 2016–20 National Gender Equality Policy provided a national framework to implement such a commitment. It aims to increase access to education and a gender-sensitive education curriculum through the production of gender-sensitive information, the review and gender analysis of education curricula and resources, and support to education access and participation. The Gender Equality Policy also draws attention to the issue of boys’ disengagement.
Within the general legal education framework provided by the 2009 Education Act, the principals and management authorities of schools are responsible for providing a productive and safe teaching and learning environment for all. Responding to specific concerns, the 2015 National Safe Schools Policy contains provisions to protect pregnant girls from school dropout, giving them full support during pregnancy, trying to remove stigmatization of learner pregnancy and securing their return to school after childbirth. With the intention of providing a positive learning environment for all students, the policy further prohibits the use of violence and holds school inspectors and principals responsible for detecting any form of bullying and sexual harassment.
With reference to girls and women with disabilities, both the 2006–15 strategic plan for education and the 2011–16 National Policy on Disability commit to giving special attention to the target group, facilitating their enrolment and participation and promoting awareness campaigns on inclusive education opportunities. The 2014 Inclusive Education Policy endorses a gender perspective and notes the need for gender-disaggregated data, gender-specific interventions, and gender advocacy and research.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The implementation of a bilingual primary curriculum aims to maintain and further develop the local language, Samoan. The commitment to a bilingual education system, in Samoan and English, was reaffirmed in the 2006–15 strategic plan for education and the 2013–18 education sector plan.
With the aim of increasing enrolment and retention, school fee relief grants in primary schools were introduced in 2010. In 2013, the Samoan School Fees Grant Scheme was extended to secondary levels thanks to the support of the New Zealand government.
Led by the School Operations Division and within the Samoa Inclusive Education Demonstration Programme, the programme Inclusive Education at All Levels aims to reach out to children and youth currently not in education, including children with disabilities in rural and remote areas and young people experiencing disadvantaged familial circumstances. The programme intends to facilitate their access to mainstream education, providing institutions with adequate equipment.
The Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture is mandated to provide education for primary and secondary education with support provided for early childhood and special schools. The 2006 Special Needs Education Policy established within the ministry the Special Needs Education Advisory Committee with the aim to provide advice to the ministry’s chief executive officer on special needs and inclusive education and the needs of students and their families. For students not enrolled in special units, the policy appoints a special needs education coordinator to assist the school with programme planning and implementation. An inclusive education unit was established within the Curriculum and Materials Development Division of the ministry, including one special needs officer, later renamed inclusive education officer. The 2013–18 education sector plan calls for a revision of the organizational structure of the ministry to better position inclusive education within it.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for impairment identification in children through the Loto Taumafai Early Intervention programme. As highlighted in the 2006–15 strategic plan for education, there is a need for closer cooperation between the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Health in the training of persons responsible at the local level for the identification of special needs students in rural and urban areas. In collaboration also with the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, the strategic plan aimed to draft national guidelines for appropriate accessible education and public facilities.
The Samoa Inclusive Education Demonstration Programme has increased coordination among the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, the Attorney Generals, the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and other service stakeholders to achieve its objectives.
The provision of adequate school infrastructure helps to increase access to education. The 2013–18 education sector plan intended to improve secondary school facilities and community learning centres in particular. In 2017, Samoa adopted a new National Building Code that contains specific provisions to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The 2013–18 education sector plan set among its objectives the reform and assessment of the national curriculum to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to learn and acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes. The 2011–16 National Policy on Disability aimed in turn to strengthen inclusive education in the curriculum, in collaboration with the National Disability Advocacy Organization and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.
With reference to gender, the 2016–20 National Gender Equality Policy prioritized the introduction of a gender-sensitive education curriculum to increase education access and participation.
The 2016–20 National Gender Equality Policy stresses the importance of addressing the gender issue through the engagement of appropriate teaching methods and relevant curriculum material for girls and boys.
In 2011, a National Teacher Development Framework was adopted to provide a comprehensive system for development and management of the teacher workforce.
The Faculty of Education of the National University of Samoa is the main provider of pre-service teacher training in the country. Since 2000, the course on inclusive education has been part of the teacher-training curriculum. It is a compulsory component of the study plan that every student enrolled in the faculty of education is required to take. Primary-level student teachers can specialize in special needs education through the Special Needs Education Programme. A professional staff development programme was also established at postgraduate level.
Since 2013, SENESE has been approved to provide certificate courses for teachers working with children with disabilities. It also organizes, not on a regular basis, continuous professional development through workshops on inclusive education. However, these workshops are not recognized as a formal qualification.
The selection, training, appointment and management of teacher aides has traditionally been the responsibility of SENESE. In 2016, a specific course to improve the training of teachers and teacher support personnel on inclusive education was delivered by the Australian Pacific Training College in the capital city.
Samoa provides annual education statistical digests.
Data collection on students with disabilities attending mainstream schools relies on teacher knowledge. Since 2017, the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development have defined disability areas for learners in regular classes.
However, reports do not include data on students attending special education. In general, data is limited to enrolment.