An explicit definition of inclusive education does not exist. However, the 2013 National Policy for Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development referred to the inclusive education concept. The 2005–15 education sector strategic plan included equitable access to basic education as a strategic goal. Among the activities to achieve this goal, the plan mentioned the development of ‘policy guidelines on inclusive education … for the integration of learners with special needs, OVCs [orphans and vulnerable children], indigenous language minorities and religious minorities.’ Aspiring to a paradigm shift from integration to inclusion, mental retardation to intellectual disability, special education to inclusive education, the 2016–26 education sector plan intends to cater for the diversity of learners with respect to abilities, language, culture, gender, age, ethnicity and other forms of human differences.
Special education needs
According to the 2016–26 education sector plan, learners with special education needs are children and youth with physical and sensory impairments or with intellectual disabilities (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Down syndrome, autism and learning disabilities).
A 1995 pilot of inclusive schooling in 10 primary schools lasted three years and its evaluators suggested scaling it up by adding two new schools per year. In 2006, another pilot programme added supportive reception classes within regular primary schools to provide education to children with disabilities. By 2010, 228 reception classes had been created, mostly within church-run primary schools. According to the 2016–26 education sector plan, seven inclusive lower basic education schools and four inclusive upper basic education and secondary schools provide learners with special education needs with adequate standards throughout the country. At present, special education is still provided in five special education institutions for children with hearing and visual impairments, intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities.
As endorsed in the 2016–26 education sector plan, inclusive education is expected to be progressively implemented. However, special education is planned to be continually provided to persons with severe and profound disabilities in the transition phase towards inclusion, as long as education resources, such as inclusive curriculum, qualified teachers, and appropriate teaching and learning materials, are made available.
Early identification, screening and assessment
Integrated early childhood care and development (IECCD) training manuals and a community-based rehabilitation programme have been developed with the aim to support early identification of children with disabilities. To include persons with disabilities into regular education, the 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy calls for the development of specialized assessment and resource training and examination centres.
The 1993 Constitution, amended in 2004, compels the state to make education available to all, in line with fundamental human rights. While primary education is compulsory, secondary education and technical and vocational education are to be made progressively free (Section 28). The 2010 Education Act (Art. 4.2.c), the main legislative instrument regulating the national education system, as well as the 2011 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act contain a non-discrimination provision. In line with this principle, new school supervision and management regulations oblige school principals and officials to supervise cases of discrimination on any grounds within the school environment.
The 2006 National Policy on Orphans and Vulnerable Children, followed by a 2012 implementation plan, addresses specifically the education needs of orphaned or abandoned children, poor children, children residing in remote rural areas and those marginalized because of their ethnicity or language. The 2013 National Policy for Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development commits to making all services inclusive for children with disabilities and/or with developmental delays and for children from ethnic minority groups.
The 2016–26 education sector plan recognizes the need to apply a paradigm shift from a special to an inclusive model of education provision, addressing the diversity of learners’ needs in terms of abilities, language, culture, gender, age and ethnicity. Among its priorities, it aims to adopt an inclusive education policy. In 2018, the Ministry of Education was reported to have completed the inclusive education policy and was preparing to develop an inclusive education strategic plan.
Lesotho does not have disability-specific legislation. However, the Constitution contains provisions for the rehabilitation and training of persons with disabilities and the 2011 Children’s Protection and Welfare Act affirms children’s rights to education, regardless of the type and severity of their disability (Art. 11.3).
The 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy promotes equal access and inclusion of persons with disability in education and training programmes, involving all relevant ministries, the private sector and civil society organizations. The objectives of the Priority Policy on Capacity Building focus on establishing accessible and equipped resource centres throughout the country with multidisciplinary assessment teams. The 2016–26 education sector plan intends to sensitize the population on the issue of disability and special needs, strengthen the capacity of the special education unit and expand training on special education. In the National Strategic Development Plan 2012/13–2016/17, disability is treated as a cross-cutting issue that requires the government to adopt strategies that promote the welfare of people with disabilities in many areas, including by increasing the number of teachers who are trained to educate children with disabilities, ensuring access to formal and non-formal education.
Reaffirming the principle of non-discrimination, the 2003 Gender and Development Policy serves as a guiding tool to promote gender equality and to address gender issues across all ministries. In addition to international commitments, Lesotho is also signatory of the 2008 regional SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. In 2011, the country adopted the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, which explicitly prohibits the expulsion from any education institutions and the denial of the right to education for pregnant girls and women (Art. 11.4). The cross-cutting nature of gender is recognized throughout the 2016–26 education sector plan.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
According to the Ministry of Education, education is initially provided in Sesotho, while English is the medium of instruction in the upper grades of primary and in secondary schools.
People living in rural or remote areas
Accessibility to school for children residing in rural areas is a challenge. To reach children in remote areas, a school mapping exercise was developed in 2005 to provide a school within 3 km of every child. Schools in rural areas are generally small, and multigrade teaching is a norm. More schools have been built in the mountain areas to avoid children traveling long and unsafe distances.
Free primary education was introduced in 2000 and was made compulsory by the 2010 Education Act. In addition, a school feeding programme aims to ensure that each child receives at least one meal a day at school. To encourage the participation of poor children in IECCD, bursaries are provided and the school feeding programme at primary school has been extended to IECCD nationwide.
Cooperation across sectors
In 1991, a Special Education Unit within the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) was established to integrate learners with special education needs into the regular school system at all levels.
Within the MoET, the Local Education Group brings together all education stakeholders, including other relevant ministries, such as of those of finance, civil service and social affairs, but also school owners and churches, parents’ associations, teachers’ unions and non-government organizations. Organized by the MoET on a quarterly basis, the meetings are chaired by the principal secretary of the ministry. In particular, the MoET collaborates with the Ministry of Health to ensure provision of friendly health services to learners at schools. Recently, it worked closely with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for the introduction of a system of testing financial capacity for all higher education students applying for state funding.
Cooperation across government levels
The process of decentralization dates back to the 1990s, when district resource centres and school advisory and management committees were built and recognized, respectively. Inspectorates are the main form of interaction from the central to the local level. Their role is largely advisory for schools. The 2010 Education Act aims to further strengthen the decentralization of education services in consultation with local authorities.
Infrastructure and services
The 1995 Building Control Act provides for physical access in all public buildings. However, only a few schools have been reported to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities. The 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy advocates for a review of the act and the enforcement of the Lesotho Standards in design for access.
The 2009 Curriculum and Assessment Policy provides principles and guidelines for the national curriculum reform and assessment system. Against this backdrop, a revision of national curricula and assessment materials was started in 2010 by the National Curriculum Development Centre and the Examinations Council of Lesotho.
The 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy calls for a review and reform of the national curriculum to include assessment and individual education programmes to integrate children and youth with disabilities into regular schools. It also advocates for appropriate education and training adjustments, including the extension of assessment time for persons with learning difficulties, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other neurobehavioural disorders. Yet, the education sector plan still acknowledges the rigidity of curricula in accommodating special education needs. Curricula not aligned with inclusive education are therefore planned to be revised, especially in higher learning institutions.
Both early childhood and primary level curricula are gender responsive. Life skills-based sexuality education, piloted in 2017 with the aim to be integrated into the secondary-level curriculum, addresses gender issues. Participation in certain secondary-level specializations has been reported to favour gendered models, with boys enrolling in subjects such as woodwork, metalwork and science and girls in home economics, needlework and languages.
Lesotho’s 2005–15 education sector strategic plan indicates that ‘the Ministry shall produce and procure materials for children of minorities (e.g. Xhosa, Ndebele, Baphuthi, etc.)’. To make the curriculum accessible ‘a curriculum language policy for different levels of education to render curricular materials accessible to educators and learners’ will be developed. The 2008 Curriculum and Assessment Policy Framework stipulates that ‘While acknowledging, as the Lesotho Constitution states, that Sesotho and English are the two official languages, and in recognition of the fact that there are other languages besides Sesotho and English, mother tongue will be used as a medium of instruction up to class 3 while English will be taught as a subject at this and other levels. From grade 4 English shall begin to be used as a medium of instruction and to be taught as a subject as well.’ The primary school curriculum encourages the promotion of multiple cultural identities.
The National Curriculum Development Centre in partnership with teachers’ representatives is in charge of the development of syllabuses and education materials.
The 2016–26 education sector plan acknowledges learning materials, textbooks and appropriate technology for learners with special needs in schools need to be improved. In this regard, the Global Partnership for Education has supported additional education resources, such as learning materials in Braille. The Curriculum and Assessment Policy Framework indicates that ‘Sign language and its use in the teaching and learning processes shall form an integral part of the new Language policy in order to ensure access to information and effective communication.’
With reference to gender, the 2016–26 education sector plan addresses the persistence of gender stereotypes in learning materials. Learning materials for primary level education have been translated into Xhosa.
Within a 2010 pilot project, itinerant workers were trained to support the implementation of inclusive education in 6 out of 10 districts of the country. As prescribed in the 2011 National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy, special needs education has been incorporated into the teacher-training curriculum. In particular, the Lesotho College of Education provides an introductory programme on special education for both lower basic and secondary school teaching students and a sign language training to support schoolchildren with speech and hearing impairment. The National University of Lesotho offers an advanced degree in special education among its specialization programmes.
The Lesotho College of Education admits students with special education needs who wish to obtain a diploma in education. Within the Faculty of Education, a special education needs unit addresses the education needs of students from all faculties.
Lesotho has no annual monitoring report and there is no evidence of indicators that monitor inclusive education.