Endorsing the UNESCO definition, the 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy and Strategy refers to inclusive education as a school system approach addressing the diverse and specific needs of each child by providing appropriate structures in terms of physical, material and human resources, adequate teaching tools and curriculum content. All children are entitled to develop their potential within inclusive education settings regardless of their abilities and learning needs.
Special education needs
As specified in the 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy and Strategy, children with special education needs include children with physical, sensorial or intellectual disabilities; children with specific learning needs, such as gifted children; and children who have learning difficulties caused by social problems.
The 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy introduced a paradigm shift in the education provision of the country, which is now based on a three-pronged approach:
- Regular integration: Children with mild or moderate intellectual or sensorial impairments can receive education in regular schools, with the support of ancillary staff and/or teachers and a consultancy service, following prior agreement by parents/guardian and proper assessment.
- Integrated classrooms or units in regular schools: Children with more severe disabilities receive education in specialized settings within regular public schools or in a special education class/unit or resource room.
- Special or specialized schools: After appropriate assessment, children who are not able to attend regular schools are entitled to receive education in special education schools, according to their needs. These schools are expected to be twinned with regular schools to conduct join activities. As specified in the Norms and Standards for Special Education Needs Schools, for a student to be admitted, a medical certificate attesting to the disability or psychological status and proving their learning disability is demanded.
Special education needs resource and education development centres have been set up in remote areas to reach out to children and youth with special needs who cannot benefit from existing appropriate facilities.
To ensure equal education opportunities to primary education learners, schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas have been the object of tailored measures through the Zones d’Education Prioritaires (ZEP) strategy, now phasing out.
Early identification, screening and assessment
National resource centres were expected to be set up to enable early identification, screening, detection and orientation. In collaboration with a special education needs intervention team, they are to put in place a referral system based on the use of a health card, a portfolio and a progress report and to be responsible for follow-up, re-assessment and re-placement.
With this purpose, the Mauritius Institute of Education has developed tools for early identification and assessment follow-up for children with disabilities. To ensure equal access to education, a registration exercise was planned to be carried out to identify children with disabilities who have fallen out of the schooling system.
The 1968 Constitution of Mauritius, as amended in 2016, contains a provision for non-discrimination on the basis of race, place of origin, political options, colour, creed or sex (Section 3) but does not explicitly lay down the right to education. However, the latter is exercised and guaranteed in practice by other legislative and policy frameworks, as clarified by the National Human Rights Commission. In addition, the 2008 Equal Opportunities Act states that no education institution can discriminate against any person by denying or limiting access to or participation in education, unless the person requires special services or facilities (Art. 17).
Within the education legislative framework, the 1957 Education Act, last amended in 2014, as the main legal document regulating the formal education system, reiterates the right to access to schools without discrimination based on race or religion (Section 35).
As a result of a broad consultation, the 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy acknowledges inclusive education as a new approach for the development of all children and youth, pointing out the necessity of including all children with special education needs in the regular education system to the greatest extent possible. Informed by the principles of parity and equity, the policy envisages a paradigm shift, adopting a needs-based approach and ensuring equal access to education for learners with special needs.
To ensure accessible learning opportunities to all within an effective education and training system, the Ministry of Education is committed to implementing policy guidelines on inclusive education to integrate learners with special education needs or disabilities into the regular school system.
A disability bill has not yet been adopted to domesticate the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy advocated for the amendment of the Education Act through a Disability and Special Educational Needs Bill.
As a matter of policy, the 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy marked a shift in education provision, ensuring equal opportunities thanks to supportive services and calling for greater flexibility in the age of admission at primary level and in the time completion of lower primary or upper primary school. The Norms and Standards for Special Education Needs Schools followed, providing a classification of disabilities and setting the standards and requirement for education provision in special needs schools, education institutions specifically targeted at children with special education needs due to disabilities.
Within the 2005–10 Building an Inclusive Society programme, the 2007 National Policy Paper and Action Plan on Disability was formulated with the objective to align national legislative and policy frameworks to the international commitment derived with the 2007 ratification of the CRPD. Informed by the purpose of building a need-responsive society, it aimed to implement appropriate actions to enable persons with disabilities to receive education and training, among other objectives.
The 2008–20 Education and Human Resources Strategy Plan reiterated the right of learners with disabilities to be included in the regular school system at all education levels.
Enshrined in the Constitution, the principle of gender equity is integrated in national legislation, including in the Equal Opportunities Act. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare adopted the 2008 National Gender Policy Framework and Action Plan, providing an overarching framework and principles to mainstream gender in the formulation of national policies. Within this framework, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources formulated a gender policy statement in 2009 reflecting the commitment to ensuring equality in access to education in learning processes and in education outcomes and achievements.
As stated in the 2008–20 Education and Human Resources Strategy Plan, a new sector gender policy was expected to be developed to ensure gender-sensitive curricula and teaching and learning materials and to provide equal learning opportunities for all.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous groups
According to the aspirations of the 2010–15 government programme, Kreol Morisien was integrated into the curriculum as an optional language for teaching and learning, alongside Arabic and other Asian languages. Bhojuri, an ancestral local language, was introduced in grade 1.
The Ministry of Education acknowledges the importance of learning and of being assessed using the spoken language rather than the medium of instruction. Therefore, it advocates for increased teacher awareness of the role of language in learning facilitation.
People living in rural or remote areas
To address the different performances in learning assessment and social inequalities, the 2002 ZEP strategy aimed to creating enabling environments and favourable learning conditions in more disadvantaged regions. The 2008–20 Education and Human Resources Strategy Plan aimed to gradually phase out ZEP schools, established in disadvantaged areas of the country, to integrate best practices in primary schools.
Free and compulsory education for all children up to 16 years old has been guaranteed since the legislative amendment of the Education Law in 2004. The Eradication of Absolute Poverty Programme ensures access to education for children living in poverty, marginalized or residing in remote areas.
Cooperation across sectors
The responsibility for education has been re-unified under a single ministry. In the past, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources was in charge of pre-primary, primary and secondary education and of technical and vocational education and training, while the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology covered post-secondary provision.
Within the Ministry of Education, the Special Education Needs Unit coordinates special education needs schools or specialized schools and promotes interministerial and inter-organizational collaboration, also involving the school community, stakeholders and parents. Intersectoral partnership is also encouraged in the 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy.
In 2018, a Special Education Needs Authority was established. Consisting of representatives of different ministries, including the ministries of health and social security, of the Mauritius Institute of Education and of non-government organizations, it is charge of advising on the formulation of policies, registering special education needs institutions, setting standards and promoting inclusive education practices.
Within the Ministry of Social Security and National Solidarity, the Training and Employment of Disabled Persons Board deals with the establishment of appropriate vocational centres and other training institutions. Financed by different donors, including the Ministry of Education, the Society for the Welfare of the Deaf is responsible for training and education of deaf people across the country and for setting up and managing dedicated training centres, schools and hostels. In parallel, the Lois Lagesse Trust Fund – formerly the Society for the Welfare of the Blind – targets blind people.
The Action Plan on Disability advocates for reinforcing the synergy between the government, non-government organizations, regional and international organizations and other relevant stakeholders. Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Social Security is expected to act as a facilitator and collaborates with the Ministry of Education, in particular in relation to needs assessment and education placement.
Within the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, the National Gender Machinery mainstreams a gender approach in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of policies at national level. As specified in the National Gender Policy Framework, a strategic partnership is pivotal for achieving gender equality.
Cooperation across government levels
To enable greater flexibility in the education system and provide more schools with autonomy, education administration has been decentralized and the island of Mauritius has been divided into four education zones.
Infrastructure and services
In line with the Building Act, the 2005 Building Regulations ensure that buildings are accessible for persons with disabilities. New legislative measures were expected to be adopted to empower local communities to make public buildings accessible.
Since the adoption of the Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy, physical facilities have been equipped with ramps. As specified in the Norms and Standards for Special Education Needs Schools, the buildings of new special education needs schools are required to have appropriate facilities to allow children with physical and sensory-motor disabilities to access school facilities.
A new curriculum framework (NCF) was launched in 2010 and a manual of activities developed to support teachers in its implementation. The NCF aims to be more flexible and responsible at the lower secondary education level. Adaptation of the curriculum to meet special needs was listed among the acitivities of the education sector plan. Individual education plans are planned to be developed for each child with special needs.
According to the 2009 gender policy statement put out by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources, existing curriculum frameworks for all cycles and subsectors were to be reviewed to ensure gender-responsive content development, based on the UNESCO toolkits.
Learning materials and ICTs
Textbooks are provided free of charge for all primary school children. At secondary level, youth in need can benefit from a free book scheme.
Special needs schools are required to provide appropriate pedagogical teaching and learning materials and adapt furniture based on types of disabilities. ICTs are planned to be used as a supportive tool for teaching and learning in the classroom, responding to students’ needs.
According to its gender policy statement, the Ministry of Education is committed to introducing teaching methods and materials free of gender-based stereotypes.
Established in 1973, the Mauritius Institute of Education provides teacher education, including certificated trainings in special education needs, a diploma in special education needs for primary and early childhood education levels and a post-graduate diploma on inclusive and special education. As specified in the Norms and Standards for Special Education Needs Schools, teachers in special schools are requested to obtain a Cambridge School Certificate and a Certificate in Special Education from the Mauritius Institute of Education. Those already teaching without qualifications are required to attend an appropriate course in special education needs from the institute within three years.
Primary teachers can also graduate with a major in deaf education and sign language, partially meeting the commitment of the Action Plan on Disability to introducing a comprehensive module on children with special needs into the curriculum of the teacher training programme.
The 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy calls for a re-orientation of teacher training from a curriculum-centred to a child-centred approach to cater for the individual needs of each child. In addition, an individualized teaching programme is expected to be prioritized in the form of pre-induction, immersion and in-service courses, using face-to-face, mixed-mode and open distance learning.
To realize inclusion, the 2008–20 Education and Human Resources Strategy Plan committed to preparing new professional profiles, including trainee educator, special education needs educator and special education needs teacher, to work closely with class teachers. Particular emphasis is laid on the recruitment and involvement of multi-disciplinary professional teams, such as experts in child psychology, psychiatry, sociology, social work, probation work, child welfare work and community policing, both at school and at regional level, to cover education, social, psychological, therapeutic and medical needs.
Teacher training is expected to include a module on new ICT.
According to the 2009 gender policy statement put out by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources, the Mauritius Institute of Education is encouraged to formulate its own gender policy and strategy and to include gender-sensitivity training in pre-service and in-service teacher education, covering different gender learning styles and cognitive development, sexual harassment code of conduct, and how to stimulate classroom interactions with boys and girls to ensure equitable treatment.
The commitment to training teachers in gender sensitivity was reaffirmed in the 2008–20 Education and Human Resources Strategy Plan.
Ethnic and linguisitic groups
As planned in the 2008–20 Education and Human Resources Strategy Plan, teachers are expected to be trained on the impacts of bilingualism and on methodologies to empower children in the use of languages as a source of learning.
The 2006 Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Education Policy calls for the establishment of a national special education needs resource centre to develop a database on the numbers of children attending specialized schools, non-formal education settings and daycare centres, carrying out surveys and monitoring social, education and family indicators.
A new student tracking system was under way in 2011 to monitor the enforcement of compulsory education. However, a database on children with disabilities does not exist. The Action Plan on Disability calls for a rationalization and formalization of the data collection and dissemination on disability. Gender-sensitive indicators are expected to be developed to monitor gender gaps in education.
Within the framework of the open education management information system (OpenEMIS), a five-day EMIS technical support initiative took place in 2019 in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and promoted by the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education. The capacity-building initiative aims to strengthen the management of information systems and to monitor the progress of the Education 2030 Agenda.