1. Definitions

2. School Organization

3. Laws, Plans, Policies and Programmes

4. Governance

5. Learning Environments

6. Teachers and Support Personnel

7. Monitoring and Reporting


  1. Definitions

Inclusive education

The definitions of inclusive education and special education 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 background, language, learning difficulties or 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 education 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 at some point during their educational career and are in need of additional support for short or long periods. This groups can also be described as those 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; being gifted and talented; socio-economic deprivation, including malnutrition; HIV/AIDS; ethnic/cultural minority status; location in isolated rural communities; and experience of war and conflict.


  1. School Organization

There are three types of school organization in Ethiopia to accommodate people with disabilities in education.

Special schools

There are two types of special schools: special day schools (schools that learners with the same type of disability attend in the daytime) and special boarding schools (residential schools for learners with the same type of disability). Teachers in special schools 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. These schools are also based in towns and admit few children with disabilities. They serve learners from grades 1 to 8. When learners with disabilities have completed primary education (grades 1 to 8), they are expected to join regular schools for secondary education (grades 9 to 12). 

Special units

Special units refer to some classrooms or blocks in regular schools reserved for learners with disabilities. This unit arrangement allows learners with disabilities to meet with learners without disabilities during break time. Learners with different types of disabilities, ranging from mild to severe, attend education in special units. Most teachers in these units are general education teachers. Special units are not found in all regular schools of the country but they are greater in number than special schools. These units serve learners from grades 1 to 8. Learners with disabilities may be transferred from special units to regular classrooms at primary and/or secondary education level.

Inclusive schools

Inclusive schools refer to regular schools where learners with and without disabilities learn together in the same classrooms. In these schools some assistance teachers, such as sign language interpreters, may be available. These 7,532 schools are categorized together as cluster schools for the sake of sharing resources. They are not all of the same status in supporting learners with disabilities. Among them, 213 (2.9%) have established inclusive education resource centres; in these schools, inclusive education seems better practised.

High numbers of identified learners with disabilities are found in regular schools in Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region, while more such learners are found in special units in Amhara. There are 40,063 schools serving learners from pre-primary to secondary level. In these schools, 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%.


  1. Laws, Plans, Policies and Programmes

The Ethiopian government has signed international legal and policy frameworks related to inclusive education, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the World Declaration on Education For All.

In Ethiopia, there is no education law or act. Instead, there are the Constitution, the 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 access to education 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 education rights of all citizens. In 2012, the Inclusive Education Strategy set out 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. The 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. The 2016–25 Inclusive Education Master Plan aimed to strengthen the structures and environment enabling inclusive education by identifying strategic pillars which form the basis for inclusive education. Accordingly, due consideration has been given to the expansion of education opportunities for all learners in the education system.

In Amhara, Oromia, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region and other regions, there are no different polices or 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.

While the words ‘all learners’, which appear frequently in the policy documents, seem to cover all people benefiting from education, in reality the Inclusive Education Master Plan clearly indicates 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.


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 (2006). The ratification of that convention in 2010 necessitated the revision of the Special Needs Education Program Strategy document, which served special needs education in the country. In also encouraged a rights-based approach to be considered at all levels of education, especially for persons with disabilities. In general, the philosophy of inclusive education has become an integral part of the national legal and policy frameworks.  

The Government of Ethiopia embarked in 1997 on a 20-year programme of education reform called the Education Sector Development Programme (ESDP). Due attention was given to the expansion of education opportunities for learners with special needs in ESDP III (2005/06–2010/11). ESDP IV (2010/11–2014/15) then focused on enhancing the number of special needs educators, increasing enrolment of learners with special needs and improving institutional capacity of schools in addressing the academic and social needs of learners. ESDP V (2015/16–2019/20) ensured the full mainstreaming of special needs and inclusive education under cross-cutting issues within the education sector priority programmes to ensure joint responsibility of all implementing bodies. In addition, the 2017–22 General Education Quality Improvement Program for Equity envisaged supporting creation of adequate learning conditions for all learners, with due emphasis on learners with special needs through allocating school grants for the establishment of inclusive education resource centres at school level. The Growth and Transformation Plan II (2015/16–2019/20) emphasized special attention and assistance for children with disabilities to help them start and continue schooling, while the 2012–21 National Plan of Action of Persons with Disabilities focused on how to provide the best possible education and vocational skills training available to children and youth with disabilities.

In 2006, the Special Needs Education Program Strategy was developed with a belief that all children can learn and many of them need some form of support in learning. Similarly, in 2012 the National School Health and Nutrition Strategy aimed to put a 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 problems.

The guidelines for establishing and managing inclusive education resource/support centres (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 institutions in 2009) have also contributed to provide accessible, equitable and quality education services for all learners of each level, with due emphasis on learners with special needs.

Finally, the 2002 Education and Training Policy 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 on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981. The Constitution states that women have equal rights with men. Women are also entitled to affirmative measures to enable them to compete and participate on an equal basis 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 of Education. In collaboration with other partners, a number of programmes are under way, such as a school feeding programme, bursary schemes, 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 Equality was established 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 education services to national minorities and coordinate local communities in their efforts to participate in education activities. Since 1994, curricula have been radically changed to allow the states to choose the language in which pupils 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’.


  1. Governance

In the Ethiopian education system there are seven priority issues categorized under cross-cutting programmes. 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 subsectoral priority programmes, because the chosen approach ensures that the cross-cutting issues are ‘mainstreamed’, they will 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, each cross-cutting issue will become the concern of multiple implementing units. A focal person, designated by the ESDPs to address the issue of inclusive education in the country, is anticipated to take responsibility at each level, from federal to zone and woreda (district) level. However, in reality, inclusive education is not fully integrated within subsectoral priority programmes in planning, budgeting, implementing, monitoring and evaluating from federal to woreda level.  

The 2012 Inclusive Education Strategy indicates that providing appropriate education for learners with special needs is a responsibility that is shared among a range of stakeholders, including relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, and Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Nevertheless, in practice there is no collaboration between ministries to promote inclusive education in the country, and educating learners with special needs is considered a responsibility of the Ministry of Education alone. Although both vertical and horizontal working relationships are essential in strengthening inclusive education practice, cooperation in this regard is negligible from federal to woreda level.  

Currently, at federal level the issue of inclusive education is the responsibility of the Special Support and Inclusive Education directorate. The directorate is composed of two teams, one each for special support and inclusive education. The special support team is accountable for providing education support to the four emerging regions (Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, Afar and Gambela). The inclusive education team, which comprises four experts, is also accountable for running inclusive education programmes 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 programmes at the region and city administration. For example, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region, the School Improvement Program directorate is responsible and two experts are assigned; in Amhara, the curriculum directorate is responsible and one expert is assigned; in Oromia, the School Improvement Program directorate is responsible and one expert is assigned; in Tigray, the curriculum directorate is responsible and three experts are assigned; in Somali, 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. In the majority of zone and woreda education offices there are no assigned professional experts for inclusive education programmes.


  1. Learning Environments


The 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, the majority of schools are inaccessible in terms of infrastructure. They are poorly designed and not well facilitated or equipped to meet the unique needs of all learners. Overall, schools are characterized by inconvenient design of buildings, poor classroom arrangements, unavailability of adapted toilets and adapted seats, inadequate space for wheelchairs, lack of adapted ramps, signage and water supply, and unsafe playgrounds.

Curriculum, learning materials and ICT

There are no specific policies to ensure curriculum, learning materials and ICT are used to promote the inclusion of learners with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. In addition, there are no guidelines 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. Schools are not sufficiently equipped with teaching and learning materials, stationery, equipment, assistive devices or teaching aids which suit the needs of all learners. In this regard, teaching and learning materials (Braille textbooks, large prints, tactile graphics, abacus, etc.); stationery (slates, talking calculators, Braille paper, etc.); equipment (for making Braille books, computer software such as Job Access with Speech, etc.) and assistive devices (wheelchairs, hearing aids, canes, crutches, etc.) are not available in the national market. As a result, schools are under-resourced. With the exception of a few attempts like captions for deaf learners, there are no ICT-based learning materials dedicated to inclusive education. Regions such Amhara, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region all face this issue. The majority of schools in all regions lack inclusive school environments.


  1. Teachers and Support Personnel

The 1994 Education and Training Policy and the revised version, the 2002 Education and Training Policy, indicated that teachers’ preparation for special needs education would be provided. All of the ESDPs also listed the issue of teachers’ preparation under their priority activities and made clear that the teacher preparation system should be built up to provide adequate numbers of qualified teachers to address the needs of 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 offer a course titled Introduction to Special Needs and Inclusive Education for general education teacher trainees in the pre-service and in-service modalities. This course constitutes only 3 credits out of 113 for diploma and 147 for degree programmes. Thus, the current pedagogical skills of general education teachers in Ethiopia are broadly insufficient for effective teaching to all children because teachers are not adequately prepared on how to identify and support the needs of learners with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. It is believed that general education teachers need to know all learners and accordingly provide appropriate support.

Special needs educators are being prepared in 18 teacher colleges at diploma level; 12 universities at degree level; 8 universities at master’s level; and 1 university at doctoral level. Unlike the progression in the special needs educators’ preparation programme 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 have established inclusive education resource centres are mandated to hire special needs educators. From the total of 7,532 cluster schools in the country, the 213 that have established inclusive education resource centres have assigned special needs educators in alignment with the general education structure. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education affirmed that specialist support is needed to cater for learners’ individual needs and interests. Such support should possibly include the following personnel: 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 psychologists at secondary schools. This issue is present in all regions.


  1. Monitoring and Reporting   

The Ministry of Education has published a yearly reporting document called the Education Statistics Annual Abstract since 1999. Its overall objective is to provide performance data and statistics measuring Ethiopia’s progress against education priorities set out in the ESDPs. The publication reports on all education sectors, including 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 and higher education institutions. Likewise, regions including Amhara, Oromia andSouthern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples have their own yearly education status reporting documents.

Nevertheless, no reporting systems have a monitoring framework to follow progress towards inclusive education. There are no clear targets or 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 school 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. 

Last modified:

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 09:55