Endorsing the UNESCO definition, the 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education defines inclusive education as a ‘process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all children, youth and adults through increasing participation, cultures and communities, and reducing and eliminating exclusion within and from the education system’. It further clarifies that inclusive education is not limited to integrating children and young people with disabilities or those who are vulnerable; rather, it involves ending segregation or the deliberate exclusion from education of certain groups because of performance, gender, race, culture, religion, lifestyle, health conditions or disability conditions.
In official documents, however, such as the 2018 assessment of the Sector Policy on Inclusive Education, inclusive education does refer to children with disabilities.
Special education needs
Learners with special education needs have been considered children and youth with disabilities and extraordinary learning needs whose education was provided in fully fledged special/resource schools, units and learning support classes as well as inclusive mainstream schools. The 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education shifted the paradigm to be responsive to the needs of all children. It acknowledges that certain children and young people may be more likely to be educationally marginalized, including children residing in remote areas, street children, children with disabilities and impairments, children who are gifted/talented, children from households living in extreme poverty, and children with learning difficulties and/or emotional and behavioural challenges.
Traditionally, special education has been provided to learners with disabilities according to a remedial and compensatory approach. The 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education introduced a paradigm shift to establish an inclusive education system in all schools from early childhood level. According to the 2018 Assessing Inclusive Education in Practice report, education in Namibia is provided in:
- Mainstream schools with separate segregated learning support classes for learners who require medium to high levels of support. Formerly special classes, these classes were re-redesigned to temporarily admit learners with special education needs.
- Inclusive schools that accommodate all learners in the same classrooms, regardless of the level of support needed. Inclusive schools provide learners with the necessary support to ensure they learn and contribute to and participate in all aspects of the life of the school.
- Resource/special schools: former special schools that provide teaching and learning to learners with various disabilities and that are expected to provide outreach services and support to mainstream schools. Resource schools are still segregated and accommodate children requiring high levels of support. Mainly disability specific, they implement a general education curriculum. In the case of learning disability, resource schools may adapt the curriculum to the learning needs of the student.
- Resource/special school units: mainstream schools with a separate class for children with specific disabilities.
At the local level, regional inclusive education units were expected to be established to provide additional support for learners with severe needs who have been included in regular schools. Resource schools, inclusive education units and learning support classes are encouraged to cooperate with regular schools to foster inclusive approaches in education.
Early intervention, screening and assessment
Learners admitted to resource schools are assessed regularly to evaluate possible admission to regular schools. A mechanism for the early identification of individuals at risk of education marginalization and exclusion is expected to be developed as part of the monitoring and evaluation exercise for the Sector Policy on Inclusive Education. To date, teachers in all circuits are trained on how to identify learners with disability, looking at the possible symptoms of various disabilities and on how to accommodate these learners in the classroom. A designated division – Diagnostic, Advisory and Training Services – fulfils the mandate of testing, assessing and providing psychological support services to learners.
The right to education for all is enshrined in the 1990 Constitution, amended in 2010, which also sets forth that primary education is free and mandatory for all children (Art. 20).
The 2000 National Policy for Educationally Marginalised Children aimed at contributing to the achievement of equitable access to education by targeting educationally marginalized groups, such as children of farm workers, children in remote areas, street children, children in squatter areas and resettlement camps, children with physical and mental impairments, over-aged children and children in extreme poverty. In line with the 2008 Education Sector Policy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, ensuring equal education opportunities based on these groups’ needs has been a central policy priority, paving the way to an inclusive education approach.
In line with international commitments, Namibia is engaged in implementing inclusive education. Embracing a broad conceptualization, the 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education aims to create a supportive learning environment that accommodates all children regardless of their abilities and to expand access to and provision of quality education, especially for marginalized learners. The 2017–22 education strategic plan, along with the related Fifth National Development Plan, explicitly refers to inclusive quality education in its mission statement, acknowledging diversity. As part of its strategic objective, it plans to reach out-of-school primary-age children, to enhance education in remote rural areas and to foster lifelong learning for marginalized communities.
The 2004 National Disability Council Act, last amended in 2015, reaffirms the equal opportunities of persons with disabilities and ensures their access to vocational, educational and employment training. Informed by the principle of inclusive education, it reaffirms the right of children to be taught with their peers, ‘whenever possible’, regardless of individual differences or difficulties they may have (3.5.1). Within this framework, the 1997 National Policy on Disability emphasizes that children and youth with disabilities have the same right to education as children and youth without disabilities.
Since children with disabilities and learning difficulties are considered vulnerable, the 2008 Education Sector Policy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children aims to ensure that the school provides them with teaching and learning experiences that foster opportunities and their potential with an inclusive approach and respect for diversity. It further compels the state to provide children with severe disabilities with the possibility to attend a government-funded school, unit or class able to meet their needs.
In line with the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development and its Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children, the 2010–20 National Gender Policy aimed to balance male and female participation rates in education and reduce gender inequalities.
As teenage pregnancy still represents one of the main causes of school dropouts, the 2018 Education Sector Policy for Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy aims to prevent and decrease the number of learner pregnancies and to manage and promote education completion of learner-parents. Allowing pregnant girls to continue education at school until four weeks before their expected due date or to take a justified leave of absence, the policy intends to create support for learners before they give birth. After birth, it encourages girls to continue their education according to their health and well-being by providing justification for infant care.
Ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous groups
The Constitution considers unlawful any legislation that prohibits the use of local languages as a medium of instruction (Art. 3). As stated in the 2001 Education Act, last amended in 2005, English is the medium of instruction. However, if necessary, a language other than English may be used after consultation between the minister and the concerned school board (Art. 35.4).
According to the 2003 Language Policy for Schools, learners’ language and cultural identity is promoted through the use of their mother tongue as medium of instruction in pre-primary to grade 3 junior primary. In grade 4, a transitional year, English plays a supportive role in the classroom. In a school where a substantial number of learners belong to different language groups, specific arrangements are expected to be adopted to provide instruction in the different languages.
People living in rural or remote areas
Children in remote rural areas as well as learners in squatter areas and resettlement camps are among the target groups of the 2004 National Policy on Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Learners residing far away from school are to be financially assisted with transport and/or boarding facilities. The country’s Vision 2030 emphasizes the need to develop an early childhood development (ECD) policy and implement innovative ECD programmes specifically targeted at rural and marginalized communities..
As recognized in the 2004 National Policy on Orphans and Vulnerable Children, children from poor households are entitled to affordable education. Payments of school fees and school uniforms were expected to be regulated. Thus, the implementation of universal primary and secondary education has led to a drastic increase in the number of learners attending primary and secondary school. A school feeding programme is one of the main incentives for school attendance for learners from poor family backgrounds and has reached an increasing number of beneficiaries over the years – from 500 learners in 1991 to more than 377,854 in 2018.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare assists parents with processing school fee exemptions. An Education Development Fund has been set up to compensate for the education costs not collected from exempted learners.
Cooperation across sectors
The Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture has been implementing the 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education. An interministerial, intraministerial and stakeholder collaboration on inclusive education, the Inclusive Education Steering Committee is charged with monitoring the situation of vulnerable and marginalized groups, promoting their education access, and improving collaboration, information sharing and implementation.
Cooperation across government levels
In line with the government’s 2016–21 Decentralisation Implementation Plan, the current education strategic plan aims to enhance management of the decentralization function. Funding arrangements for inclusive education within national and decentralized structures are being revised in line with the adoption of the Sector Policy on Inclusive Education, ensuring fund allocation to special education needs through the Education Development Fund.
In line with the aspirations of Vision 2030, Namibia developed, with the support of UNICEF and the European Union, the 2018 National Safe Schools Framework, including its Practical Guide for Building Safe Schools. Informed by the principle of inclusive education, the guide contains a section on the establishment of minimum standards and norms for infrastructure and capacity at state schools. It sets among basic indicators that buildings and facilities are accessible to all, including persons with a disability, as well as equipped with water and sanitation facilities.
The 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education has led to a review of curricula to make them more responsive to the principle of diversity, modifying and adapting subject content with suitable methodologies and materials. The 2014 Curriculum Framework for Inclusive Education calls for a curriculum that is more responsive to all learners with special education needs. It aims to ensure consistency in the attainment and sustainability of the aims and objectives of the 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education. The curriculum framework informed the development of syllabuses for the visually, intellectually and hearing impaired, as well as the development of basic pre-vocational skills courses offered in resource schools and units. Examinations, learning assessment and progression are also redesigned in light of learners’ diversity. In the sector policy it is mentioned that: ‘The current curriculum advocates differentiation and learner-centred approaches. These approaches are powerful tools for inclusion. It is recommended that the curriculum training for teachers includes practical tips and orientations to help teachers to use the curriculum effectively to respond to a range of needs.’
According to the 2018 assessment of the inclusive education policy, ‘the curriculum and content of the training for teachers, therapists and social workers need to be developed with the participation and involvement of the Disability Sector (including OPDs [organizations of persons with disabilities]), NGOs [non-government organizations], parents, schools, the Ministry and consultants’. Processes to ensure the deployment of paramedical staff in special/resource schools are under way.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
A new Language in Education Policy is expected to be developed to take Namibia’s diversity into account. Local language, iconic languages, Namibian Sign Language and Braille are implemented and embraced in schools with learners with visual and hearing impairments.
As pointed out in the 2010–20 National Gender Policy, curricula, textbooks and all teaching and learning materials need to be free from gender-stereotyped references and illustrations at all levels of education.
ICT and learning materials
Learning support materials and required supplementary instructional resources need to be reviewed in order to remove stigma and be suitable to support learners. The education strategic plan also affirms the need to provide sufficient textbooks and other learning resources, including ICT, assistive technology for children with disabilities, and a conducive learning environment for the development of learners’ potential. Cultural diversity through local and community arts and other social platforms is encouraged. During the 2018–19 and 2019–20 financial years, the ministry spent more than NAD 10 million in assistive technology and equipment for children with disabilities.
The principle of inclusion is expected to inform all teacher training programmes. Education support units established at tertiary education institutions provide continuous professional development courses or workshops on inclusive education practices, programmes, development, implementation and monitoring.
Teacher training institutions are encouraged to build close relationships with schools that work towards inclusive education and encourage information and experience exchange. All teachers are expected to acquire a general understanding of inclusive practices; most are required to develop expertise in dealing with common difficulties/disabilities; and a few must specialize in learners’ difficulties/disabilities. Manuals for teachers and facilitators have been developed to identify and support orphans and vulnerable children. A learning support manual has been developed to support learners with learning difficulties.
An incentive called the ‘bush allowance’ was introduced in 2007 to attract teachers to remote areas. The 2017–22 education strategic plan intends to strengthen incentives to attract qualified teachers to remote rural areas. In addition, the 2010–20 National Gender Policy encourages affirmative actions for the professional development of female educators, teachers and professors so that they can take up managerial education roles.
The 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education intends to provide schools with qualified paramedical staff, including occupational therapists, speech/language therapists, social workers and audiologists. It also commits to train support professionals, such as teacher assistants/facilitators, mobility and orientation instructors, interpreters, and specialized professionals in HIV and AIDS, early childhood development, gender-mainstreaming, counselling and school health. In addition, inclusive education specialists are expected to be trained and deployed in regional offices and at school with an advisory role together with advisory education teachers and/or officers with expertise in inclusive education practices. Particular attention has been paid to psychosocial support as an integral school activity.
The University of Namibia intends to re-introduce a special needs education diploma with majors in different disabilities. The Namibian Student Financial Assistance programme is considering funding paramedical staff, including occupational therapists, speech/language therapists, social workers and audiologists.
Namibia provides annual education statistics, which report data on the number of learners with disabilities by type of disability by region and gender as well as the number of orphans and vulnerable children by region and gender.
The 2013 Sector Policy on Inclusive Education envisages a wider scope of data collection on educationally marginalized learners, along with the production of qualitative and quantitative research and analysis on measuring progress and impact and the collection of successful inclusive education practices. While the eighth strategy of the 2013 policy was to ‘develop a mechanism for monitoring and evaluating’, the 2018 assessment found that reliable statistics were still lacking.