The Ministry of Education defines inclusive education as the “process of addressing all learners’ educational needs in a mainstream education setting. It is based on the principle that all learners are different, and can learn and develop differently, and therefore, the education system is expected to flexibly be adapted to fit every learner’s (child’s) needs.” (p. 6).
Special education needs
The groups of learners with special educational needs include learners with physical and motor challenges; intellectual challenges; visual impairment; hearing impairment; developmental challenges; multiple disabilities/difficulties; speech and communication difficulties; and specific and general learning difficulties. Also, gifted and talented learners, orphans, abused and neglected children, displaced, refugees and returnees, children in prisons, child soldiers and laborers, child heading families, street children, children infected and affected by HIV and other terminal or chronic illnesses are included. These learners may have non-ordinary needs in schooling because of intrinsic or extrinsic limitations.
Previously, the education of “learners with special needs” focused exclusively on those with disabilities, but the current policy has broadened this perspective.
One of the 10 outcomes developed for the most recent Education sector plan (2013/14 – 2017/18) was to “increase equitable access to education for students with special educational needs within mainstream and special schools”. In this regard, two schooling systems are provided for learners with special educational needs.
First, special school settings are traditionally established “to cater for learners with certain disabilities”. They are endowed with specialized support services such as rehabilitation, teaching methodologies, specialized instructional materials and assistive devices. This system aims at providing education services to all children who may have needs for adjusted education, different from ordinary education. In Rwanda, there are schools for students with blindness and deafness. The Education Law (2011) states that “specialized schools aim at admitting students with physical or mental disabilities or both, who cannot study in ordinary schools so as to acquire knowledge and education that may improve their abilities and skills in order to be self reliant and to participate in national development”. Second, inclusive schools (or child-friendly school settings) are ordinary schools that have adopted an accessible and barrier-free school policy, in order to accommodate learners with a range of educational needs.
The article 40 of the Constitution claims that every person has the right to education. In addition, the State has the duty to take special measures to facilitate the education of disabled people. Article 11 states that all Rwandans are born and remain free and equal in rights and duties. Article 14 of the Constitution claims that “the State shall take special measures for the welfare of the survivors of genocide who were rendered destitute by the genocide committed in Rwanda from October 1st, 1990 to December 31st, 1994, the disabled, the indigent and the elderly as well as other vulnerable groups”. Discrimination of whatever kind based on, inter alia, ethnic origin, tribe, clan, colour, sex, region, social origin, religion or faith, opinion, economic status, culture, language, social status, physical or mental disability or any other form of discrimination is prohibited and punishable by law.
The Revised special needs and inclusive education policy is centred on the following principles: equal access to learning opportunities for all learners with different special educational needs; respect and facilitation to all learners; independence and autonomy; partnerships with education stakeholders. The most recent Sector plan placed the learners with special educational needs in the first position of the sector’s strategic goals.
The most recent Sector plan identified key measures to increase the number of children with disabilities enrolled in school, such as: adapting the new curriculum to learners with special educational needs; training staff, teachers and other stakeholders on disability; assessing school needs for special needs; creating and using a database of all learners with special needs; and providing specialised textbooks to schools. In spite of these measures and the ambitious targets set (38,309 children with disabilities enrolled in schools in 2018), attendance at primary school is still much lower for disabled children (57.4 %) compared to 97.7% for the other children.
The project Inclusive Futures in Rwanda – financed by the Innovation for Education Fund and the Governments of Rwanda and the UK and managed by Cambridge Education - has been a forerunner in the field of inclusive education, from 2013. It has developed national standards for the education of children with disabilities to provide a framework for quality inclusive education. The project has helped to set national norms, standards and tools for the policy on inclusive education, to equip classrooms with Braille embossers, and to train national and local educational stakeholder, parents and children to have a better understanding about the rights to education and the importance of inclusive education. An inclusive education model has also been developed and tested. Along the same lines, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF funded 400 inclusive schools across the country in 2012.
Currently, the education system “is not yet endowed with any formal functional assessment”, carried out for early identification of special education needs.
The Girls Education Policy (2008) aims: to integrate gender issues into national, district and community programmes and plans; to establish a legislative and institutional framework to coordinate and monitors programmes aimed at promoting gender equality in education; and to stimulate collective efforts to eliminate gender disparities in education. The Policy is promoting targeted strategies to support girls’ education, like strengthening gender sensitive and learner‐centred methodologies; training teachers in gender issues; revising regularly the education curricula and learning materials from a gender perspective; and strengthening the integration of girls’ education into plans and budgets at all levels. In this regard, the Sector plan focused also on the importance of universal basic education and the removal of gender disparities. Under these conditions, the plan supports specific gender-sensitive initiatives, such as school health programmes to promote good hygiene practices and initiatives to support pupils to protect themselves against HIV.
Under these conditions, the independent agency USAID promotes different education programmes to reduce on gender-based violence, such as Soma Umenye (Read and know), Mureke Dusome (Let’s read!), and Huguka Dukore (Get trained and let’s work!).
Ethnic & linguistic groups and Indigenous groups
In order to strengthen the learning of Kinyarwanda, English and French, the national languages, language textbooks have been distributed to schools. The number of textbooks distributed is not specified. Articles 35, 40 and 46 of the Law governing the organization and functioning of Nursery, Primary and Secondary Education N°23/2012 of 15/06/2012 states that an order of the Minister in charge of education shall determine the curriculum, teaching hours and the language of instruction in primary, secondary and special schools.
People living in rural or remote areas
About 30% of children with disabilities have never attended school; most of them live in rural areas. Given the background, the Sector plan expanded opportunities to adult literacy programmes, and technical and vocational education in rural and remote areas.
The most recent Sector plan aimed to improve access to education, from primary level throughout secondary education, with a specific focus on addressing inequalities and disparities that exist throughout the country. The Ministry of Education should also publish soon its National Policy for Educationally Disadvantaged Learners (not available in May 2019).
Based on article 20 of the national constitution and on the law No. 1/2007, the Ministry of Education remains the lead coordinator of the inclusive education policy and guides partnership with all institutional and non-institutional stakeholders. Among other things, the Ministry of Education is responsible for ensuring the alignment with the government regulations and standards; setting and reviewing regulations and standards of provisions to special needs and inclusive education services; providing technical guidance in the policy implementation; developing and providing appropriate special instructional materials and services; and ensuring the appropriateness of teachers’ and related personnel’s practices and approaches. The other stakeholders involved in the country’s IE policy are the Ministries of:
- Finance and Economic Planning (to ensure adequate budget allocation);
- Public Service and Labour (to guide the personnel implementing services);
- Local Government (to interpret the policy to local authorities, NGOs and civil society stakeholders);
- Gender and Family Promotion (to run advocacy programs to promote equity and engage communities);
- Health (to provide diagnostic assessment, referral services, medical treatments and support services to learners);
- Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community (to oversee the activities of international NGOs);
- Justice (to ensure the legal protection and social support to students);
- Infrastructure (to ensure the accessibility of infrastructures and public transport);
- Sports and Culture (to ensure the inclusiveness of cultural and sporting activities in schools).
The National Commission for Children (NCC), the National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD), the Rwanda Education Board (REB) and the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) are also involved in the implantation of the policy.
That said, support to inclusive education initiatives remains dominated by international agencies, including UNICEF, the Department of International Development of the UK, and Humanity and Inclusion. Public organizations, NGOs, faith-based organizations also collaborate closely with the government and play substantial support in providing inclusive education services.
Finally, schools and educational institutions have the responsibility of delivering inclusive education services. They ensure adherence to inclusive education standards as set by the Ministry of Education and collaborate closely with the community, government and other partners.
Overall, the services and resources for inclusive education are still uncoordinated and not standardized; “each ministry or agency has concentrated on its mandate without sharing experiences with or learning from othersˮ. In addition, there is no forum that brings together the abovementioned ministries contributing to the implementation of the policy.
Infrastructure and services
The Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy 2019-2024 mentioned that only 5.7%, 18% and 23.5% of schools in pre-primary, primary and secondary have adequate infrastructure for disabilities. In addition, ramps, adapted toilets, landmarks and clear walkways are not always available. Furthermore, face other obstacles like long distances to and from school, non-adapted transport systems, etc.
In this context, the most recent Sector plan aimed to equip all schools with disabled-friendly facilities for children with special needs. From 2013 to 218, it aimed to equip schools and to support 4,377 primary and 3,323 secondary students with equipment. Similarly, the ministries of Education and Infrastructure have both put in place guidelines for building accessible environments for people with different disability-related needs. Furthermore, the Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy 2019-2024 recommends improving actual infrastructure and equipment and material to meet special needs.
Finally, there is no specific policy to achieve the minimum teacher/student ratio in inclusive education.
For the moment, the curriculum is considered inflexible and rigidly standardised. Therefore, the inclusive education policy promotes the provision of alternative curricula and school programs. It underlines the importance to include Activities of Daily Living (ADL) within basic education programmes for learners with special educational needs. The Ministry of Education supports the adaptation of special needs and inclusive education by promoting diversity of teaching approaches, differentiation of the content taught, and the use of different learning materials.
The most recent Sector plan aimed to harmonise curricula for children with disabilities. In 2015-16, four teachers’ guides addressing the specific needs of children with disabilities were developed.
ICTs and Learning materials
The inclusive education policy aims to provide standardized Rwandan Sign Language (RSL) skills and related teaching materials to enable schools to accommodate learners with hearing and spoken language difficulties. In this regard, the Ministry of Education will among other things put in place tactile materials for the visually impaired learners. That said, sign language is not recognized by the Ministry of Education and not integrated into teacher training programmes, therefore, learning materials are also limited. Also, there are gaps for Braille and tactile material and transcription services.
The ICT in Education Policy (2016) maintains that efforts will be made to provide the needed infrastructure to the remote and underserved areas using technological solutions that are suited to local needs and conditions. To do so, the focus will be on developing and adopting assistive technologies for people living with disabilities and on using ICTs to provide educational opportunities to all students regardless of gender, age, geographical location, or special educational need. The University of Rwanda will also be reinforced to help bringing higher education online.
The Ministry of Education published in 2007 a Teacher development and management policy. In 2016, it has updated its policy, developed a strategic plan and a teachers’ guide on inclusive and special needs education. Similarly, the Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy 2019-2024 recommends to train a sufficient number of teachers in inclusive education and to increase the number of new schools with inclusive education programmes. Finally, the most recent Sector plan also highlighted the importance to examine teaching approaches at secondary and higher education levels to ensure girls’ participation. The plan aimed to train 15% of teachers in service on special educational needs by 2018.
In spite of these policies and plans, many teachers lack the basic knowledge in inclusive education to implement it in the classroom. We also note an insufficient number of qualified teachers to teach children with different special educational needs. Also, it must be mentioned that teachers are not trained on inclusive education at the early intervention level. If the University of Rwanda - Collage of Education (CE) has included modules on special needs and inclusive education within its teacher training programmes, ongoing programmes all crucially demanded.
Rwanda does not have a national monitoring report on education. The Department of Basic Education Quality Assurance (BEQA), the Higher Education Council (HEC) and Workforce Development Authority (WDA) are expected to monitor the quality and standards of education services and inclusive education. However, inclusive education is not adequately monitored in their reports. Current data seems to reflect mainly visible impairments and disabilities.
The Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy 2019-2024 has identified performance indicators in education linked to inclusive education, in particular: the number of teachers trained in special need and inclusive education; the percentage of children with disability enrolled; the adequate infrastructure for disabilities; the percentage of schools with infrastructure and equipment improved to meet special needs; the number of teachers trained in inclusive education; and the number of schools with inclusive education programme.