The definitions of inclusive education and special educational needs embrace all the concepts of UNESCO’s definition. Inclusive Education refers to an education system that is open to all learners, regardless of poverty, gender, ethnic backgrounds, language, learning difficulties, and impairments. Inclusion emphasizes that all children and students can learn. It requires identifying barriers that hinder learning, and reducing or removing these barriers in schools, vocational training, higher education, teacher education, and education management. The educational environment must be adjusted to meet the needs of all learners.
Special education needs
The concept of special educational needs focuses on learners who, for a variety of reasons, encounter problems in learning sometimes during their educational career, and are in need of additional support for short or long periods. Another way of describing this group is learners who experience barriers to learning and development. Learners’ difficulties can arise from a range of factors leading to disadvantage and marginalization, especially the following: disabilities, impairments and social-emotional problems; gifted and talented; socioeconomic deprivation, including malnutrition; HIV/AIDS; ethnic/cultural minority status; location in isolated rural communities; and experience of war and conflict.
There are three types of school organizations in Ethiopia to consider people with disabilities in education.
There are two types of special schools: special day schools (schools where learners with the same type of disability attended in the daytime) and special boarding schools (residential schools where learners with the same type of disability attended in the daytime and stay the night together). In special schools, the teachers have usually received additional skills related trainings like Braille reading and writing, and sign language. The teacher-learner ratio is usually much lower than in regular schools. Also, they are based in town, and admit few children with disabilities. These schools being serve learners from grade 1 to 8. When learners with disabilities completed primary education (grade 1 to 8), they are expected to join regular schools for secondary education (grade 9 to 12).
Special units refer to some classrooms or blocks in regular schools reserved for learners with disabilities. These units arrangement allows learners with disabilities to meet with learners without disabilities during break time. Learners with different types of disabilities which are ranging from mild to severe level attend education in the majority of special units. Most teachers in these units are general education teachers. Special units are not found in all regular schools of the country but their number is greater than special schools. These units are serving learners from grade 1 to 8. Learners with disabilities may be transferred from special unites to regular classroom at primary and/or secondary education level.
Inclusive schools refer to regular schools where learners with and without disabilities learn together in the same classrooms. In these schools some assistance teachers, for example, sign language interpreters may be available. These schools are categorized under 7,532 cluster schools for the sake of sharing resources together. All of them are not at the same status in supporting learners with disabilities. Out of these 213 (2.9%) of them have established inclusive education resource centers in their compound. In these schools, inclusive education seems better practiced.
High number of identified learners with disabilities in regular schools is found in Oromia and South Nation Nationality and Peoples region while that of special units, are found in Amhara. There are 40,063 schools serving learners from pre-primary to secondary level. In these schools, an enrolment of learners with disabilities at pre-primary level is 0.6%; at primary level is 9.8%; and at secondary level is 2.8%.
The Ethiopian government has signed international legal and policy frameworks related to inclusive education, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the World Declaration on Education For All (1990).
In Ethiopia, there is no Education Law or Act. Instead, there are Constitution, Education and Training Policy, programmes, plans, strategies, proclamations, guidelines, and frameworks. The Constitution accepted the international legal and policy frameworks, recognized education as a human right and assured it to be accessed for all citizens in considering assistance for people with disabilities, orphan children, and the aged. The Education and Training Policy promotes the provision of special support to disadvantage groups. Hence, the Constitution and Education and Training Policy serve as a cornerstone legal and policy framework for the educational rights of all citizens. In 2012, Inclusive Education Strategy designed to build an inclusive education system which would provide quality, relevant and equitable education and training to all children, youth and adults with special needs and ultimately enable them to fully participate in the socio-economic development of the country. Ethiopian Growth and Transformation Plan I (2010/11–2014/15) placed an important priority on the quality, equity, and efficiency of education at all levels. Inclusive Education Master Plan (2016–2025) designed to strengthen the structures and environment enabling inclusive education by identifying strategic pillars which form the basis for inclusive education for 10 years. Accordingly, due consideration has been given to the expansion of educational opportunities for all learners in the education system.
In Amhara, Oromia, South Nation Nationality and Peoples and others, there are no different polices and legal frameworks in relation to inclusive education. However, the absence of enforcing regulations to oblige regions to provide access to education and support for learners with special needs and learning barriers has led the provision to be sporadic.
We note that the words “all learners” which stated in the policy documents frequently, seem covered all people benefiting from education. In reality, the Inclusive Education Master Plan (2016-2015) clearly indicated that “In practice the Ethiopian inclusive education particularly refers to education for children and youth with disabilities, omitting learners with temporary learning difficulties and specially gifted and skilled children”. Therefore, the status of learners from different vulnerable groups is not addressed well, though effort is exerted to include it in the definition part.
The Ethiopian government has signed the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975), the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Person with Disabilities (1983), the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (1994) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [CRPD] (2006). The ratification of CRPD in 2010 necessitated the revision of Special Needs Education Program Strategy document which served special needs education in the country. Also, it influenced right based approach to be considered at all level of education, especially for person with disabilities. In general, the philosophy of inclusive education has become part and parcel of the national legal and policy frameworks.
The Government of Ethiopia embarked in 1997 on a 20-year program of education reform called Education Sector Development Programme (ESDP). Due attention was given to the expansion of educational opportunities for learners with special needs (2005/06–2010/11). Then, ESDP IV (2010/11–2014/15) focused on enhancing the number of special needs educators; increasing enrollment of learners with special needs; and improving institutional capacity of schools in addressing the academic and social needs of the learners. ESDP V (2015/16–2019/20) ensured fully mainstreaming of special needs and inclusive education under crosscutting issues within the education sector priority programs to ensure joint responsibility of all implementing bodies. Besides, General Education Quality Improvement Program for Equity (2017–2022) envisaged supporting creation of adequate learning conditions for all learners, with due emphasis for learners with special needs through allocating school grants for the establishment of inclusive education resource centers at schools level. Growth and Transformation Plan II (2015/16–2019/20) emphasized special attention and assistance to children with disabilities to help them start and continue schooling. National Plan of Action of Persons with Disabilities (2012–2021) focused on how to provide the best possible education and vocational skills training available to children and youth with disabilities.
In 2006, Special Needs Education Program Strategy has developed in a belief that all children can learn and many of them needed some form of support in learning. Similarly, in 2012 National School Health and Nutrition Strategy prepared towards put system in place to provide a conducive, fully accessible, and inclusive environment for all children; and to ensure safety and security for children with physical and mental problem.
The Inclusive Education Resource Centres Establishing and Managing Guideline (prepared for primary and secondary schools in 2015), the Special Needs Education Guide (prepared for technical and vocational education and training in 2012) and the Higher Education Proclamation (prepared for higher education institution in 2009) have also contributed to provide accessible, equitable, and quality educational services for all learners of each level, with due emphasise for learners with special needs.
Finally, the Education and Training Policy and Its Implementation (2002) stipulates that “it is both economical and preferable to give students with severe learning disabilities remedial classes in their spare time or during summer vacations and promote them to the next grade than to have them repeat class for a whole year”.
Ethiopia ratified the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) CEDAW on 10 September 1981. The Constitution states that women have equal right with men. Women are also entitled to affirmative measures, so as to enable them compete and participate on the basis of equality with men in political, social and economic life as well as in public and private institutions. Furthermore, to prevent harm arising from pregnancy and childbirth and in order to safeguard their health, women have the right of access to family planning education, information and capacity. A Gender and Equity Department was opened in 1994. It aims to mainstream gender in all the activities of the Ministry. In collaboration with other partners, a number of programmes are under way, such as the school feeding programme, bursary schemes, and leadership and training for girls, and awareness raising for community leaders and other stakeholders. Finally, the National Policy on Ethiopian Women was formulated in 1993 (still in effect) with the objectives of creating conditions to make rural women beneficiaries of education and in 2006, a National action plan for gender equity aimed to promote equal access and success in education and training for women and girls.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The Education and Training Policy affirms provision of quality basic education and training to all citizens without discrimination, and recognizes the rights of nations/nationalities to learn in their language. Also, the Constitution states that education shall be provided in a manner that is free from any religious influence, political partisanship or cultural prejudices.
According to Proclamation No. 41/1993, issued on 20 January 1993, the central and regional bodies of Education Bureaux are mandated to ensure the quality of education in their regions, prepare curricula for primary schools, provide textbooks, provide educational services to national minorities and coordinate local communities in their efforts to participate in educational activities. Since 1994, educational curricula had been radically changed to allow the states to choose the language in which pupils would receive their primary education. Thus, many Ethiopian languages have been introduced to replace Amharic as the language of instruction in areas where Amharic is not the mother tongue of the majority of the population. The Education and Training Policy unequivocally prescribes that "primary education shall be provided in the national languages".
The Constitution affirms that the State “shall accord special protection to orphans and shall encourage the establishment of institutions which ensure and promote their education”.
In Ethiopian education system there are seven priority issues categorized under cross-cutting programs. These are gender, special needs and inclusive education, HIV/AIDS, education in emergencies, school health and nutrition, drug and substance abuse prevention, and water, sanitation and hygiene. The objective is that to fully-integrate cross-cutting issues within sub-sectoral priority programmes, because the chosen approach ensures that the cross-cutting issues are ‘mainstreamed’, that they become the joint responsibility of all implementing bodies. It is also expected that when the national plan is cascaded to directorates, regions, city administrations, technical and vocational education and training institutions, and universities plan, each cross-cutting issue will become the concern of multiple implementing units. For its effectiveness, at the federal, region, and city administration level a unit as well as at zone, woreda, technical and vocational education and training, and university level a focal person anticipated to take responsibility. This is who the Education Sector Development Programmes are designed to address the issue of inclusive education in the country. However, in reality, inclusive education is not fully-integrated within sub-sectoral priority programmes in planning, budgeting, implementing, monitoring and evaluating from federal to woreda level.
Also, the 2012 Inclusive Education Strategy indicated that providing appropriate education for learners with special needs is a responsibility that is shared among a range of stakeholders. This includes relevant Ministries such as Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, and Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Nevertheless, in practice there is no collaborated effort between Ministries to promote inclusive education in the country. And, educating learners with special needs is considered as a responsibility of Ministry of Education alone. Although, both vertical and horizontal working relationships are essential in strengthening inclusive education practice, cooperation in this regard are negligible from federal to woreda level.
Currently, at federal level the issue of inclusive education is the responsibility of Special Support and Inclusive Education directorate. The directorate is composed of two teams namely: special support and inclusive education. Special support team is accountable for providing compressive educational support to the four emerging regions (Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, Afar, and Gambela). Inclusive education team, which is a total of four experts, is also accountable for running inclusive education programs in the country.
At region and city administration level, the responsibility of inclusive education is organized under various directorates. Mostly, one expert is in charge of running inclusive education programs at the region and city administration. For example, in South Nation Nationality and Peoples region, the School Improvement Program directorate is responsible and two experts are assigned; in Amhara region, the Curriculum directorate is responsible and one expert is assigned; in Oromia region School Improvement Program directorate is responsible and one expert is assigned; in Tigray region, the Curriculum directorate is responsible and three experts are assigned; in Somali region, the Special Support and Inclusive Education directorate is responsible and one expert is assigned; and in Addis Ababa city administration, the Cross-cutting unit is responsible and one expert is assigned.
Similarly, at zone and woreda level, the responsibility of inclusive education is given to different directorates. Beside, in the majority of zone and woreda education offices there are no assigned professional experts for inclusive education programs.
Ethiopian Building Proclamation requires accessibility in the design and construction of any building to ensure suitability for persons with physical impairment, including toilet facilities. The Council of Ministers Building Regulation has been issued to implement the Proclamation to construct disability-friendly buildings. However, majority of schools are inaccessible in terms of their infrastructure. They are poorly designed and not well facilitated and equipped to meet the unique needs of all learners. Overall, schools are characterized by inconvenient design of buildings, poor classroom arrangements; unavailability of adapted toilet and adapted seats; inadequate space for wheelchairs; lack of adapted ramps, signage, water supply; and unsafe play grounds.
Curriculum, learning materials and ICTs
There are no specific policies used to ensure curriculum, learning materials, and ICTs are used to promote the inclusion of learners with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Also, there is no guideline for the implementation of curriculum adaptation and modification at the school level and teachers are not sufficiently trained in adapting the regular curriculum to suit the needs of individual learners. Besides, schools are not sufficiently equipped with teaching-learning materials, stationeries, equipments, assistive devices, and teaching aids which suite with the needs of all learners. In this regard, teaching-learning materials (Braille text books, large prints, tactile graphics, abacus, etc); stationeries (slate, styles, talking calculator, Braille paper, etc); equipment (for making Braille books, computer software such as Job Access with Speech (JAWS) etc.) and assistive devices (wheelchair, hearing aids, cane, crutch, etc.) are not available in the national market, as a result of this, schools are under-resourced. With the exception of few attempts like caption for deaf learners on plasma lesson, there is no ICTs based learning materials dedicated for inclusive education. Regions, for example Amhara, Oromia, South Nation Nationality and Peoples, and others are similar in these issues. Majority of schools lack inclusive school environment in all regions.
The Education and Training Policy (1994) and the revised version The Education and Training Policy and Its Implementation (2002) indicated that teachers’ preparation for special needs education will be provided. All of the Education Sector Development Programmes of the country also listed the issue of teachers’ preparation under their priority activities; and made clear that the teachers’ preparation system should be increased to provide adequate numbers of qualified teachers to address the needs of the learners. The 2012 Inclusive Education Strategy confirmed that all teachers will be equipped with appropriate attitudes, values and skills to teach diverse populations, including learners with special needs. In fact, Teacher Training Institutions give the course ‘Introduction to Special Needs and Inclusive Education’ for general education teacher trainees in the pre-service and in-service modalities. This course is given only in three credits out of 113 and 147 credits for diploma and degree programs respectively. Due to this, current pedagogical skills of general education teachers in Ethiopia are broadly insufficient for effective teaching to all children. It is because they are not adequately prepared on how to identify and support the needs of learners with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. It is expected that general education teachers need to know all learners and accordingly provide appropriate support.
Special needs educators are being prepared in 18 colleges of teachers educations at diploma level; 12 universities at degree level; 8 universities at master’s level; and 1 university at doctoral level. Unlike the progression in special needs educators’ preparation program in the country, there are no structures in the education system to hire them at school level. The existing education structure does not specify special needs educators’ presence at school. But, cluster schools which established inclusive education resource centers are mandated to hire special needs educators. From the total of 7,532 cluster schools in the country, 213 of them which established inclusive education resource centers have assigned especial needs educators in alignment with the general education structure. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education affirmed that specialist support is needed to cater for learner’s individual needs and interests. Such support should possibly include the following personnel who would serve in different capacities at each school. The personnel are educational psychologist, speech therapist, occupational and physiotherapist, school nurse, sign language interpreter, orientation and mobility trainer, and Braille trainer. Nevertheless, in reality such support personnel are not available at schools to promote the delivery of inclusive education except educational psychologist at secondary schools. This issue is similar in all regions.
The Ministry of Education publishes a yearly reporting document called ‘Education Statistics Annual Abstract’ since 1999. Its overall objective is to provide performance data and statistics measuring Ethiopia’s progress against educational priorities set out in the Education Sector Development Programmes. The publication reports on all education sectors. These are: general education (pre-primary, primary, secondary, integrated functional adult literacy, and special needs and inclusive education), colleges of teachers’ education, technical and vocational education and training, higher education institutions. Likewise, regions including Amhara, Oromia, and South Nation Nationality and Peoples and others have their own yearly educational status reporting documents.
Nevertheless, all the federal, regions, city administrations, zones, woredas, and schools reporting system do not have a monitoring framework to follow progress towards inclusive education. There are no clear targets and indicators which show the implementation status of inclusive education in the country from pre-primary to tertiary education level. Sufficient and comprehensible data are not easily available from federal to schools level on learners with disabilities and particularly learners from different vulnerable groups. Even the existing data are very limited, fragmentary and not well organized. The data reporting flow from schools to federal level lacks clarity, consistency, uniformity and reliability.