The 2018 education and training sector policy indicates that, under inclusive education and training:
‘ ... all children and youth can learn and need support to do so. It involves uncovering and minimising barriers to learning whilst enabling education structures, systems and learning methodologies to meet the needs of all learners. Furthermore, it involves changing attitudes, behaviour, teaching methods, curricula and the environment to meet the needs of all learners. It acknowledges and respects differences in learners, whether due to age, gender, language, level of development, disability, HIV or other circumstances. It is about maximising the participation of all learners at all levels in the culture and the curriculum of educational institutions.’
Provision of equitable and inclusive education is the overarching policy goal.
Special education needs
The 2018 education and training sector policy defines the disadvantaged as:
‘ ... those who are socially, geographically or economically sidelined or excluded from, for example, access to education. This group may include rural dwellers, girls and women, persons with disabilities and the poor. The disadvantaged require special attention in respect of equity, access, equality and protection – particularly from stigma and discrimination. Disadvantaged groups are those who have little or no influence over their own education or welfare. As a result, they are often excluded from access and decision-making and may also be defined as marginalised.’
According to a 2012 study on the education of children with disabilities in Southern Africa, the country has adopted progressive steps towards the inclusion of children with disabilities into regular schools. In 2006, a pilot project on inclusive education was carried out in nine primary schools, training teachers in special and inclusive education. A course in special and inclusive education was introduced in the formal programme of teacher training colleges. In 2010, resource centres were established in two regions to support teachers and other education staff members. Regional inspectors were appointed and deployed to three regions to assist with the identification and provision of education to learners with special education needs. The 2018/19–2020/21 National Education and Training Improvement Programme opts for a gradual implementation of universal mainstreaming, starting with a pilot phase in some schools within each region, since infrastructures, teacher capacity and curriculum approach still need to be adequately prepared.
Early identification, screening and assessment
A systematized early identification of children with special education needs does not exist. At present, class teachers are responsible for identification at school. A 2016 early identification and intervention strategy aimed to fill the gap and intended to identify special needs in order to optimize the development of and access to services. The Ministry of Health and school health personnel are expected to conduct early identification, ideally before enrolment.
The 2005 Constitution lays down the right to free education up to the end of primary school for all citizens (Art. 29), to be provided ‘within three years’ after the Constitution takes effect, and contains a provision for non-discrimination (Art. 20) based on gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, social or economic standing, political opinion, age or disability. The 2012 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act also reaffirms the right to education for all (Art. 9).
Committed to implementing an inclusive education system, the 2011 education and training sector policy acknowledged inclusive education as a crosscutting approach leading the education system to respect each individual. It identified some disadvantaged groups, namely rural dwellers, girls and women, persons with disabilities and the poor, since they may experience social, geographical or economic exclusion from education.
In line with the priorities of the National Development Strategy Vision 2022, the Sothern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on education and other international and regional commitments, the 2018/19–2020/21 National Education and Training Improvement Programme stipulates that more efforts will be directed to ensure ‘more equitable access to all levels of education and vocational training for vulnerable populations including persons with disabilities.’
After the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities in 2012, the 2015 Persons with Disabilities Bill was drafted with the aim, among others, to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to and opportunities in education at all levels. Informed by the principle of inclusion, the 2015–20 National Disability Plan of Action operationalizes the commitments of the bill.
Further, the National Development Strategy calls for integrating people with disabilities into regular education and for making infrastructure more accessible. As reported in the 2018/19–2020/21 National Education and Training Improvement Programme, the Special Education Needs programme, implementing the Special Education Policy Statement, has been strengthened through various initiatives, including building the capacity of education practitioners and adjusting school infrastructure to accommodate learner with special needs.
Signatory to the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development and its Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children, Eswatini adopted the 2010 National Gender Policy to ensure equitable access to education and training for boys and girls, women and men. In line with the constitutional provisions (Section 29), the policy advocates for taking integrated measures to prevent practices that contribute to early school dropouts, especially for girls. Although the 2011 education and training sector policy prohibits any distinction in, or exclusion or restriction from, education for pregnant learners and lays down their right to be re-integrated into the same education institution, it has been reported that pregnant learners do not complete education and do not return to school. In this context, prompt intervention has been called for to retain learners in school during the full course of their pregnancy. The 2018/19–2020/21 National Education and Training Improvement Programme indicates that efforts ‘will be directed to ensuring that gender parity is promoted and sustained’.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The Constitution recognizes both SiSwati and English as official languages. While this implies that either language may be used as language of instruction, SiSwati can be used as a medium of instruction for the first four school grades if learners have difficulty understanding English. As stated in the 2011 education and training sector policy, all children are expected to learn SiSwati and SiSwati-speaking children cannot be discriminated against.
Universal primary education is free and compulsory, as established in the 2010 Free Primary Education Act. A free primary education programme has been implemented to facilitate the enrolment of children from the poorest households, but also vulnerable children and orphans. In practice, a top-up fee has been applied by schools at the disadvantage of certain groups.
Orphans and vulnerable children
Orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) are considered among the most disadvantaged groups. The 2011 education and training sector policy called for a more accurate monitoring system for OVCs to provide a comprehensive supportive programme of protection and cognitive, emotional and social development, including a more flexible curriculum design and class and programme schedule.
Cooperation across sectors
The SADC Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) framework was adopted in 2015 to foster cooperation among all sectors. CSTL is based on the principle that increased care and support to vulnerable learners delivered through multisectoral collaborations can improve education outcomes. Eswatini has subscribed to the policy through the Inqaba initiative, its own national CSTL model.
The 2011 education and training sector policy mainstreamed inclusive education across all sectors. The Ministry of Education and Training collaborates with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport for the provision of electricity and reliable safe drinking water to both rural and urban schools, while the Ministry of Health is expected to be involved in early identification and data collection. Monitoring and evaluation of sector performance is a responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development. Within the Ministry of Education and Training, a special education needs unit (SEN Unit) promotes inclusive education. There is a plan to strengthen this unit with the appointment of specialized human resources.
To monitor the implementation of the National Education and Training Improvement Programme, a steering committee has been set up, chaired by the Director of Education and including component heads, regional education officers, other line ministries and selected external representatives.
Within the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Committee on Gender and Women’s Affairs acts as a coordinating body. The Gender and Family Issues Unit initiated gender focal points in every ministry to promote gender mainstreaming.
Cooperation across government levels
To implement the National Education and Training Improvement Programme, increased decentralization of responsibilities in managing and implementing sector programmes is expected, for example in terms of budget allocation to education institutions as subventions or school grants. The plan calls for empowering and giving more responsibility to school committees to formulate school development plans, applying and accounting for resources.
Infrastructure and services
According to the National Education and Training Improvement Programme, infrastructure in selected schools is to be reconverted to ensure access for learners with special education needs. Compliance to ensure access to marginalized populations and learners with special needs is also mentioned among the medium-term strategies to be realized in the technical and vocational education and training strategic framework.
In 2011, a Practical Guide for Head Teachers based on the Inqaba concept was developed to create a child-friendly education environment, containing references on the School Standard Infrastructure Design and on water, sanitation and hygiene conditions.
In 2018, a new National Curriculum Framework for General Education was adopted with the support of the European Union. Based on a competency-driven and learner-focused approach, the framework was planned to be piloted at the beginning in 2019.
Among its priorities, the National Education and Training Improvement Programme intends to continue with the provision of free exercise books, textbooks, stationery and equipment at primary level and to improve the management of school textbook provision at secondary level, which varies widely across schools due to lack of textbook policy. Among the strategies for guidance and counselling mentioned in the 2018 education and training sector policy are the development and provision of appropriate resources, teaching and learning materials which are evidence-based and sex- and age-appropriate and address learners’ special needs.
To improve the participation and education attainment of children with special education needs at all levels of education, teaching and learning materials are expected to be reviewed and distributed to meet current needs for learners.
The National Education and Training Improvement Programme recognizes the need to train teachers on how to deal with learners with special education needs, including during pre-service education. To increase teachers’ motivation, enhancing their involvement in decision making on general policy issues, such as inclusive education, is recommended through consultation with head teachers. Special needs and inclusive education have been introduced in the three teacher training colleges, Ngwane, Nazarene and William Pitcher Teachers College. The SEN Unit has also developed an in-service training programme for primary school teachers, with a plan to have it accredited by one of the institutions.
With reference to gender, the 2010 National Gender Policy advocated for strengthening the capacity of teachers, school inspectors and all education managers in gender concepts and the gender mainstreaming approach.
According to the SADC EMIS Norms and Standards Peer Review Assessment Report, statistics on learners with special needs is integrated with other education statistics, but the unclear definition of special needs affects the quality of statistics captured. The development of an education management information system (EMIS) policy in line with the SADC standards is set as a short-term strategy in the 2018 education and training policy.
Data on special education needs are not based on medically diagnosed statistics but on needs identified by teachers. The Ministry of Health has been involved in developing a tool to assist in early identification of learners.