Inclusive education is defined as the dynamic process of addressing and responding to the diverse needs of all learners by increasing participation in learning and reducing exclusion within and from education. The objective of inclusive education, according to the Ministry of Justice and Social Welfare, is ‘to support education for all, with special emphasis on removing barriers to participation and learning for girls and women, disadvantaged groups, children with disabilities and out-of-school children’. In Vanuatu, inclusive education acknowledges that all children can learn, respects children’s differences – their, age, sex, ethnicity, language, disability, HIV and other health status and gender considerations – and enables education structures, systems and methodologies to meet the needs of all children.
Special education needs
Children with special needs include children with disabilities (visual and audio impairment, physically and ‘mentally challenged’), slow learners, ‘intellectuals’ and gifted students as well as students who are victims of abuse, domestic violence and other problems that prevent them from attending classes. Article 45 of the Revised Education Act of 2014 stipulates that ‘children with special needs’ refers as much to highly intelligent children as it does to children who are visually impaired and to children with hearing impairment, speech impairment, intellectual impairment or physical impairments.
After some key missions to Tasmania and Papua New Guinea, in 2009 recommendations were made to set up an inclusive education system in Vanuatu. A written submission by Disability Promotion & Advocacy in June of the same year recommended against having any special schools in line with Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since the adoption of the 2010–20 inclusive education policy, the Ministry of Education has been taking initiatives to establish an inclusive education system. For instance, the country decided to abandon the idea of creating two special schools in Port Vila and Santo, as initially planned in the education master plan before the policy was adopted. In parallel, the 2008–15 National Disability Policy and Plan of Action supported a move towards inclusive education, stating: ‘Government … recognizes that all children, of differing abilities, have a right to education and will pursue a policy of inclusive education commencing in kindergarten in Vanuatu.’ In this regard, the Ministry of Education and Training has implemented two pilot schools (one in Port Vila and one in Luganville, Santo) as national centres and models for effective education for students with disabilities.
Despite these moves away from special schools and toward inclusive education, the 2017–18 education sector plan mentions: ‘the MoET [Ministry of Education and Training] will develop and implement special and inclusive education initiatives in the education system for everyone’. Many schools are not aware of the inclusive education principles and have not begun to implement the approaches described in this policy. In addition, inclusive practices vary: ‘one school incorporates parents, medical personnel and communities within its program [and] another school accepts children with impairments from different zones thus increasing its student numbers to such an extent that it becomes overwhelming for the teacher.’
According to research conducted in 2015, a community school in Luganville is the first inclusive school in Vanuatu, ‘with its own disability-inclusive education policy, a program to support teachers, and wheelchair ramps. Inclusion applies to the whole school, with a view to developing a greater understanding of diversity.’ Another community school in Port Vila also includes children with disabilities. A study on the barriers to education conducted for the Ministry of Education and Training in 2018 found that despite progress in the discourse on inclusive education, many children with special needs remain excluded from mainstream education.
The 2001 National Education Act emphasized the imperative to eliminate education disadvantages arising from a child’s gender or ethnic origin or geographical, economic, social, cultural or other status; this includes children with disabilities. The 2014 Education Act reiterated this principle, providing for non-discrimination in terms of access and enrolment, and aimed at eliminating education disadvantages from year 1 to year 10 to students regardless of their gender, ethnicity, language, religion, location or disability.
The Government of Vanuatu ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2013–22 Incheon Strategy to ‘Make the Right Real’ for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific and developed the sustainable development plan Vanuatu 2030: The People’s Plan. The Education Act is the first legislation in Vanuatu that specifically prohibits discrimination based on disability. However, it does not define discrimination or disability. The act adds that a child must not be refused admission to any school or treated less favourably because of a disability. Article 8 of the 2014 Education Act prohibits discrimination, stating, ‘ … a child must not be refused admission to any school on account of his or her disability.’ The country implemented a 2008–15 National Disability Policy and Plan of Action, while the 2011 inclusive education policy recognizes sign language and Braille. It provides for the adoption of French, English and Melanesian sign languages, to be taught in all schools in Vanuatu by 2013, although no plan yet exists for the adoption of a standard agreed National Vanuatu Sign Language in schools.
The 2018–25 National Disability Inclusive Development Policy provides for all persons with disabilities to have equal opportunities to enrol in and attend education and training. It recognizes the right to access services, including education and infrastructure, and underlines the importance of equal access to post-school education and training options for students with impairments.
The Government of Vanuatu has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Moreover, the 2014 Education Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and ensures that the different councils have an equitable and balanced gender representation. Furthermore, the 2018 Reviewed Gender Equity in Education Policy supports women’s empowerment and promotes leadership and gender mainstreaming. This policy set out to ensure that the Ministry of Education includes in the Education Act an article to stop the expulsion of pregnant girls and to encourage them to continue their schooling while pregnant and to return after giving birth. In addition, the policy aimed to build a gender- and evidence-based understanding of education and to foster girls’ and women’s participation in higher education, STEM and links to post-education employment. Finally, the 2010–20 inclusive education policy states that a child is not to be refused admission to any school on account of his or her gender.
Vanuatu supported the joint statement entitled ‘Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ delivered by Colombia to the Human Rights Council on 22 March 2011. In November 2016, Vanuatu voted in support of the mandate of the independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN General Assembly.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Over 100 languages and dialects are spoken in Vanuatu. Article 3 of the Constitution states that the principal languages of education are English and French. All students during their primary education are to be taught in either French or English and all students who proceed to secondary education are to continue in their first language of instruction and are to begin studying the other language of instruction. The 2012 Vanuatu National Language Policy established, however, that ‘in the first two years of school, Bislama or a local vernacular can be used while either French or English is introduced by the second semester of Year 3. By the end of Year 3, the language of instruction should be either French or English, However, teachers will continue to use, for as long as is necessary, the agreed local vernacular languages to support children as they make the transition to English or French.’
In parallel, the Vanuatu National Language Council Act No. 32 of 2005 aims to promote and preserve linguistic diversity. It has the function of advising and assisting the ministry responsible for education in implementing the use of vernacular languages in education (Article 11). Vanuatu has a dual education system in some areas with separate schools for Anglophone and Francophone students.
People living in rural or remote areas
According to the 2018 study on the barriers to education for the Ministry of Education and Training, ‘rural students have higher access to education facilities and teachers than urban students.’ However, the latter ‘face other barriers to education including reduced access to cash income generation opportunities to meet school fees, and geographic barriers to access schools which would impact enrolment and performance.’
The 2006–15 agenda An Educated, Healthy and Wealthy Vanuatu aimed to ensure rural/urban balance in education. As the 75% of the population lives in rural areas, the Vanuatu government’s 2005–15 strategic direction aimed to conduct an analysis of teacher deployment to respond to demographic conditions, particularly in urban areas, and to provide adaptive teacher training in small rural and remote schools. The Vanuatu Rural Development and Training Community Association is the premier organization catering for the rural non-formal education sector.
The minister of education’s 2010 Schools Grants Scheme identified that one of the barriers to access to education is the requirement for parents to pay contributions to schools in the form of school fees. Part of Vanuatu's education policy is to phase in fee-free basic education. This will be achieved by gradually replacing school fees with increased government grants.
The 2010–20 inclusive education policy suggested that the Department of Education should consider introducing a policy on HIV/AIDS.
Those who drop out of the formal education system may find places in the rural training centres, University of the South Pacific extension courses and other vocational schools or through short correspondence courses.
The Department of Education is responsible for implementing the inclusive education policy. This requires collaboration with teachers, schools and systems to adapt to better accommodate the diversity of students’ needs and to improve data collection, disaggregated data and analysis for decision making in the area of inclusive education. The department also collaborates with other national government sectors and donors through bilateral arrangements to support the policy and programme of action. In addition, the department recognizes that it will require ‘assistance from neighboring countries’ (e.g. Papua New Guinea for technical assistance on inclusive education, Australia and New Zealand) and other regional agencies. These actors were to play key roles in implementing the inclusive education policy.
The Ministry of Education and Training, Vanuatu Disability Promotion & Advocacy and the Vanuatu Society for People with Disability identify sector-specific barriers to participation in early childhood, primary, secondary and post-secondary education and training and scholarships. In parallel, the Ministry of Education and Training, Vanuatu Qualifications Authority and Vanuatu Skills Partnership develop disability inclusion strategies to address identified barriers and incorporate these into relevant sector, corporate and business plans; allocate adequate resources within the Ministry of Education and Training budget to enable implementation of disability inclusion strategies; and coordinate and liaise with the Vanuatu Society for People with Disability and the disability desk secretariat to prepare training for young children to enter schools and to establish coordination measures, including referral processes. Finally, the Ministry of Education and Training and Vanuatu Disability Promotion & Advocacy provide annual disability awareness training to all relevant sector personnel.
The inclusive education policy complements the disability policy of the Ministry of Justice and Social Affairs. In addition, the Ministry of Education coordinates with the Health Department on early identification of children with impairments and establishing a register. In this regard, the 2008–15 National Disability Policy and Plan of Action addresses the need to work closely with the Health Department and service agencies to put in place measures to facilitate the assessment of the student population and procedures for screening ears and eyes until teachers are trained to conduct such assessment themselves. The Vanuatu government created a special education coordinator position in 2001 as well as a ‘disability desk’ to work with the government to implement policies related to disability and to provide a liaison between disabled persons’ organizations, non-government organizations and government institutions.
The Vanuatu Building Code complies with the International Building Standard, which stipulates that buildings must be fully accessible. However, new buildings and trails do not always comply with the code and are not suitable for people with disabilities. According to Vanuatu’s 2018 Alternate Report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there are no consequences for non-implementation of policies, and observance is low or non-existent. In this regard, the Ministry of Education and Training’s 2018–20 Corporate Plan aimed to support quality facilities and improved inclusive and safe access to learning. A National Schools Infrastructure Development Plan was approved in December 2017. The 2017–18 Interim Vanuatu Education and Training Sector Strategy included WASH initiatives with the support of development partners and the development of policy standards for accessible buildings. Finally, the Facility Unit within the Ministry of Education drafted plans of buildings to address accessibility.
Curriculum and learning materials
The Ministry of Education provides all schools with a relevant and appropriate national curriculum based on the Vanuatu National Curriculum Statement (VCNS). It has been organizing an annual workshop on the national curriculum since 2015. In this regard, the 2017–18 Interim Vanuatu Education and Training Sector Strategy aimed to consolidate the progressive harmonization of all subjects of the curriculum from year 1 to 13 in multiple languages and to improve the assessment system. Harmonization of the curriculum has been ongoing since 2017. The National Sustainable Development Plan stipulates that culture and heritage must be fully integrated into the national curriculum. Languages and communication is identified as a ‘learning area’ in the VCNS, which includes the following statement about language: ‘the VNCS promotes the use of many languages including our national language of Bislama and other vernacular languages and our three official languages of Bislama, French and English and supports learning languages that are economically and socially important to our country’s future’.
The 2012 National Language Policy established that the system must ensure: ‘a) The curriculum is the same for all schools with respect to content; b) The structure of syllabuses and teacher guides is the same for all schools; c) All syllabuses and other curriculum documents for each “subject” are written in French and English and with the approval of the Minister that some are written in Bislama’.
The 2017–18 Interim Vanuatu Education and Training Sector Strategy aimed to replace essential teaching and learning materials and equipment for some schools. The Ministry of Education has sent 318 literacy and numeracy packages to primary schools and 350 packages to early and middle secondary schools. The ministry intends to continue to develop materials in multiple languages, including the local vernacular. In general, disability-specific services in Vanuatu are limited. The Ministry of Education and Training is committed to lead efforts to address the need for sign language.
Article 45 of the 2014 Education Act 2014 introduced inclusive education teachers. An inclusive education teacher is a ‘teacher who is specially trained to teach children with special needs from children who are highly intelligent to children with vision impairment, hearing impairment, speech impairment, intellectual impairment, physical impairments.’
Ensuring that teachers have the necessary skills to teach students with disabilities and providing accredited training providers in vocational and technical institutions remain challenges. Indeed, very few schools have teachers qualified in teaching special needs. The inclusive education policy aimed to identify the teachers who should be given priority in inclusive education training by 2015. Teacher training in inclusive education has been provided by the Vanuatu Institute on Teacher Training since 2011. The inclusive education policy provides for scholarships for inclusive education teachers to be trained in the tertiary institutions annually and other scholarships for non-certified teachers to be trained in inclusive education as well as distance education opportunities for degrees in inclusive education.
The Institute of Teacher Education plays a leadership role in the development of teacher education programmes and inserts courses for existing teachers in regional institutions. Meanwhile, the Vanuatu National Training Council must adopt a relevant and inclusive national training structure, including multiple skill levels and associated qualifications, and encourage the adoption of national skill standards with advice from appropriate industry-based groups.
The National Training Centre in Wewak has been responsible for training teachers in special education for years. The Divine Word University in Madang also offers tertiary qualifications in special education.
The inclusive education policy encourages persons with impairments to become teachers. Section 18(2)(f) of the 2013 Teaching Service Act lays out an obligation for the Vanuatu Teaching Service Commission not to discriminate on the basis of ‘sexual preference’ in the recruitment, promotion, professional development, transfer and all other aspects of management of its employees.
Training workshops for trainers on inclusive education have been conducted for all school improvement officers since 2016. In addition, the inclusive education policy provides for the training of parents and civil society organizations.
The country has an annual national monitoring report. In its efforts towards inclusive education, the Department of Education established a special education position in 2002 to collect data on children with impairments in schools. The inclusive education policy asserts that the Inclusive Education Unit is responsible for compiling annual reports to be submitted to the Council of Ministers through the minister for education. In this regard, evaluation is provided annually through the principal education officers at their annual meetings and examples of best practices are shared at annual conferences. In parallel, the Vanuatu National Statistics Office collects data on children, women and men with disabilities and the Vanuatu education management information system collects general school data.
A key indicator under the section on ‘Access to Information and Communication’ in the 2008–15 Vanuatu National Disability Policy and Plan of Action was to adopt a standardized sign language by 2008, with sign language to be taught in education institutions by 2009. However, as of 2018, this indicator was ‘10 years late, with no sign of it being implemented.’
In addition, Vanuatu was one of the four main countries involved in the drafting of the Pacific-INDIE indicators, which is an important framework for supporting the development and implementation of effective monitoring frameworks to measure disability and inclusive education.
The Ministry of Education and Training has established key indicators linked to inclusive education, such as the different types of impairments and social/emotional problems reported in schools. It has also established descriptors to support the inclusive education policy with five scale items: 1. embedded in practice, 2. significant progress made, 3. planning and implementation exist, 4. limited progress and 5. no appreciable start.
Finally, the 2018–25 National Disability Inclusive Development Policy monitors other indicators such as primary and secondary education enrolment rate of children with disabilities and the proportion of deaf and hard-of-hearing children who receive instruction in sign language.