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.’
Special education needs
The groups of learners with special education 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 included are gifted and talented learners; orphans; abused and neglected children; displaced, refugees and returnees; children in prisons; child soldiers and laborers; children heading families; street children; and children infected and affected by HIV and other terminal or chronic illnesses. 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 2013/14–2017/18 education sector plan 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 education needs.
First, special school settings are traditionally established ‘to cater for learners with certain disabilities’. They are equipped 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. There are schools for students with blindness and deafness as well as other special education needs. The 2011 Education Law 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 education needs.
Article 40 of the Constitution claims that every person has the right to education. In addition, the State assumes 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 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 any kind based on, inter alia, ethnic origin, tribe, clan, colour, sex, region, social origin, religion or faith, opinion, economic status, culture, language, social status, or physical or mental disability 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 special education needs; respect and facilitation for all learners; independence and autonomy; and partnerships with education stakeholders. The most recent education sector plan included improved access for learners with special educational needs in the first of the sector’s strategic goals.
The 2013/14–2017/18 education sector plan identified key measures to increase the number of children with disabilities enrolled in school, such as: adapting the new curriculum for learners with special education 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 specialized 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% overall enrolment).
The project Inclusive Futures in Rwanda – financed by the Innovation for Education Fund and the governments of Rwanda and the United Kingdom and managed by Cambridge Education – has been a forerunner in the field of inclusive education since 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 establish national norms, standards and tools surrounding the policy on inclusive education, to equip classrooms with Braille embossers, and to train national and local educational stakeholders, parents and children to better understand 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’ for early identification of special education needs.
The 2008 Girls Education Policy aims: to integrate gender issues into national, district and community programmes and plans; to establish a legislative and institutional framework to coordinate and monitor 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; regularly revising the education curricula and learning materials from a gender perspective; and strengthening the integration of girls’ education into plans and budgets at all levels. The education sector plan also focuses on the importance of universal basic education and the removal of gender disparities. It 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.
In addition, the independent agency United States Agency for International Development promotes various education programmes to reduce 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 and linguistic groups and indigenous groups
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 No. 23 of 2012 states that an order of the minister in charge of education shall determine the curriculum, teaching hours and 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 this background, the education sector plan expanded opportunities to adult literacy programmes and technical and vocational education in rural and remote areas.
The 2013/14–2017/18 education 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 is also expected to publish a National Policy for Educationally Disadvantaged Learners.
Based on Article 20 of the national constitution and on 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. The Ministry of Education is responsible for, among other things, ensuring alignment with government regulations and standards, setting and reviewing regulations and standards of provisions to special needs and inclusive education services, providing technical guidance in 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 inclusive education 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, non-government organizations 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 non-government organizations)
- Justice (to ensure legal protection and social support for 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, the National Council for People with Disabilities, the Rwanda Education Board and the Workforce Development Authority are also involved in the implementation of the policy.
That said, support to inclusive education initiatives remains dominated by international agencies, including UNICEF, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom, and Humanity and Inclusion. Public organizations, non-government organizations and faith-based organizations also collaborate closely with the government and lend substantial support in providing inclusive education services.
Finally, schools and educational institutions are responsible for 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 others.’ In addition, there is no forum that brings together the above-mentioned ministries contributing to the implementation of the policy.
Infrastructure and services
The 2019–24 Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy reports that only 5.7%, 18% and 23.5% of pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, respectively, have adequate infrastructure for disabilities. In addition, ramps, adapted toilets, landmarks and clear walkways are not always available. Furthermore, students face other obstacles like long distances to and from school and non-adapted transport systems.
In this context, the 2013/14–2017/18 education sector plan aimed to equip all schools with disabled-friendly facilities for children with special needs. From 2013 to 2018, 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 2019–24 Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy 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 standardized. Therefore, the inclusive education policy promotes the provision of alternative curricula and school programs. It underlines the importance of including activities of daily living within basic education programmes for learners with special education 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 Education Sector Plan aimed to harmonize curricula for children with disabilities. In 2015–16, four teachers’ guides addressing the specific needs of children with disabilities were developed.
Learning materials and ICT
The inclusive education policy aims to provide standardized Rwandan Sign Language 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 measures, put in place tactile materials for visually impaired learners. That said, sign language is not recognized by the Ministry of Education or integrated into teacher training programmes; therefore, learning materials are also limited. Also, there are gaps for Braille and tactile material and transcription services.
The 2016 ICT in Education Policy maintains that efforts will be made to provide the needed infrastructure to remote and underserved areas using technological solutions that are suited to local needs and conditions. To this end, the focus will be on developing and adopting assistive technologies for people living with disabilities and on using ICT to provide educational opportunities to all students regardless of gender, age, geographical location or special education need. The University of Rwanda will also be reinforced to help bring higher education online
The Ministry of Education published in 2007 a Teacher Development and Management Policy. In 2016, it updated its policy and developed a strategic plan and a teachers’ guide on inclusive and special needs education. Similarly, the 2019–24 Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy recommends training a sufficient number of teachers in inclusive education and increasing the number of new schools with inclusive education programmes. Finally, the education sector plan highlighted the importance of examining teaching approaches at secondary and higher education levels to ensure girls’ participation. The plan aimed to train 15% of teachers in service on special education 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. There is also an insufficient number of teachers qualified to teach children with different special education needs, and teachers are not trained on inclusive education at the early intervention level. While the University of Rwanda – College of Education has included modules on special needs and inclusive education within its teacher training programmes, ongoing programmes are crucially demanded.
Rwanda does not have a national monitoring report on education. The Department of Basic Education Quality Assurance, the Higher Education Council and the Workforce Development Authority 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 2019–24 Strategic Plan for the Integrated Child Rights Policy has identified performance indicators in education linked to inclusive education, in particular: the number of teachers trained in special needs and inclusive education; the percentage of children with disabilities enrolled; adequate infrastructure for disabilities; the percentage of schools whose infrastructure and equipment have been improved to meet special needs; the number of teachers trained in inclusive education; and the number of schools with inclusive education programmes.