An explicit definition of inclusive education has not been found.
The government views inclusive education as a process of integrating children whose learning disabilities are mild and moderate into ordinary schools. Inclusive education is also viewed as an equity issue for all children, especially for girls and those orphaned by HIV and AIDS. The education sector has adopted strategies to enhance inclusion of all citizens, taking into account factors including their age, gender, disability and geographic location.
Special education needs
The government uses the term ‘vulnerable groups’ to refer to child-headed households, persons with disabilities, orphaned children and chronically ill students. Many official documents refer to ‘children with special educational needs’. The 2017–21 National Development Plan introduced a distinction between ‘those with disabilities ‘and ‘those with special needs’. The 2013 Zambia Education Curriculum Framework indicates that learners with special education needs include ‘the hearing, visually, physically, intellectually impaired as well as the gifted/talented’.
Services for students with disabilities are provided in four types of settings:
- Special education schools exclusively for students with disabilities
- Special education units attached to general education schools where students with disabilities are educated separately but have opportunities to interact with typically developing peers during arrival/departure and recess time
- Special education classrooms within general education schools where students with disabilities are educated separately but have opportunities to interact with typically developing peers during arrival/departure and recess time, as well as during planned activities
- Inclusive classrooms where children with and without disabilities are educated in the same classrooms.
Students with more severe disabilities are placed in special education schools and special education units, where they spend most of their time with a special education teacher. Students with mild disabilities are typically placed in special education and inclusive classrooms.
Special education falls under the Institute for Special Education (ZAMISE) of the Ministry of Education. One of the key objectives of the last education sector plan was to promote efficiency of special schools and special units. The ministry aimed to implement strategies to assess special education programmes at all levels.
Finally, the Ministry of Education has established a special needs education programme for disabled students, including them ‘in regular school systems to the extent possible’.
There is currently no policy on inclusive education, and the Constitution of 1991, amended in 2016, does not enshrine the right to education. Therefore, the 2017–21 National Development Plan aims to enhance access to quality, equitable and inclusive education for all, including students with disabilities and special needs.
The 2012 Persons with Disabilities Act is the main legal framework governing disability in Zambia since the National Constitution Amendment Act No. 2 does not recognize the right to education.
The Ministry of General Education in Zambia recognizes five categories of disability: intellectual disability, hearing impairment, visual impairment, physical impairment and emotional (behavioural) disorders.
The 2012 Persons with Disabilities Act asserts that ‘a person responsible for admission into an educational institution shall not refuse to give admission to a person with disability on account of the disability, unless the person with disability has been assessed by the Agency, in consultation with the Ministry responsible for health, to be a person who requires to be in a special school for children or persons with disabilities’. In addition, this law states that the minister responsible for education shall ensure that persons with disabilities: are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability; can access an inclusive education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live; and receive the support required to facilitate their effective education. The education of students with impairments and disabilities must be delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication. Finally, Article 2 asserts that an allowance be paid to learners with disabilities to cover the extra costs that may be incurred.
Article 129 of the 2011 Education Act states that ‘an educational institution shall use sign language as a medium of instruction to any learner who uses sign language’.
The Ministry of Education put in place the Inclusive Schooling Programme (INSPRO) to address issues of disability and provide training and equipment to support special and inclusive education. Through this initiative, the Zambian government has implemented different tools (Basic Numerical and Calculation Abilities and Basic Skills Assessment Tool) in reading and writing.
In the 2011–15 sector plan, the Ministry of Education identified key strategies to include learners with special education needs: improve identification, assessment and placement; review the curricula suitable for these learners; provide learning and teaching materials and equipment; facilitate the short- and long-term training of teachers in the field of special needs and inclusive education; monitor and evaluate special education programmes at all levels; and review special needs and inclusive education policy. The plan sought to ‘promote inclusive education by integrating children with mild to moderate learning disabilities in mainstream schools and offer special education to those who cannot be integrated’. It does not mention the groups who cannot be integrated. The Ministry of Education has implemented inclusive education initiatives in Kalulushi District.
In the 2011–15 sector plan, the Ministry of Education identified key gender strategies: disseminate the legal provisions of the education act and the Gender-Based Violence Act and Child Rights Protection Act; establish a comprehensive implementation strategy for gender mainstreaming; create child-friendly learning environments to improve education attainment for boys and girls; and implement programmes aimed at reducing sexual and gender-based violence.
The new Lands Act prescribes a minimum 15-year jail term for those involved in keeping children out of school, such as when marrying off school girls. Other measures are pursued to ensure that girls can access and are retained in school, such as a 50/50 enrolment policy, a re-entry policy for girls who fall pregnant, affirmative action for selection higher levels, special quota systems for girls in technical schools, equal access to education facilities, water and sanitation hygiene programmes, and provision of bursaries and social safety nets for girls.
Other donor-funded projects have been implemented by non-government organizations, such as the Girls Education Challenge Fund and the Girls Empowerment Programme. In addition, the government launched the Keeping Girls in School project, which aimed at providing bursary support to 14,000 secondary school girls from vulnerable households in 16 selected districts in the first quarter of 2017. Finally, the Girls Education and Women's Empowerment and Livelihood Project, which was to be led by the World Bank in 2020, intended to focus on access to livelihood support for women and access to secondary education for disadvantaged adolescent girls in selected districts.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The 2011–15 sector plan proposed a review of the language of instruction policy to promote the teaching of local languages at primary level. The 2013 Zambia Education Curriculum Framework proposed that the medium of instruction in all learning areas in grades 1 to 4 would be local languages: ‘In Zambia, the seven (7) zone languages; Cinyanja, Chitonga, Icibemba, Kiikaonde, Lunda, Luvale and Silozi as well as the widely used community languages in specific school catchment areas will be used for this purpose. It should also be noted that the use of a familiar language should be extended to learners with Special Educational Needs. English will still remain as the official medium of instruction beginning at Grade 5 up to tertiary.’
People living in rural or remote areas
The 2011–15 sector plan envisaged providing inclusive access to early childhood education by expanding opportunities in disadvantaged areas, particularly in rural provinces, aiming to construct five centres per district.
The School Health and Nutrition Programme, discussed in the 2011–15 sector plan, helped improve the delivery of basic cost-effective public health interventions to learners through schools in school-based health services; water, sanitation and the environment; skills-based health education; and school health policies. The programme was piloted in 8 of the 10 provinces, covering a total of 2,500 schools with 1.3 million learners.
Orphans and vulnerable children
The 2011–15 sector plan paid special attention to the inclusion of orphans and vulnerable children. It also aimed to increase and strengthen HIV/AIDS safe clubs in schools, including special schools and units, and to develop a comprehensive sensitization program on the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
The Ministry of Education is in charge of the supervision and management of special education. It has the mandate to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms and provide them with necessary facilities. The government decentralizes services for the identification, assessment and placement of students with disabilities, working closely with the Ministry of Health.
Councils, local communities, non-government organizations, private individuals and families also play important roles in the provision and funding of early childhood and pre-school education. Local communities are also expected to participate effectively in the management of special and inclusive education in their localities. Since 2001, the Zambia National Education Coalition has provided a framework for coordinating all non-government organizations in education, such as community and faith-based organizations.
The 2012 Persons with Disabilities Act states that the ministry in charge of education shall prescribe rules, issue guidelines and put in place measures to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided for the individual requirements of persons with disabilities. In addition, a public library shall, as far as practicable, be fitted with facilities to enable access for persons with disabilities. The 2017–21 education and skills sector plan aimed to construct 300 specialized rooms in regular learning institutions for inclusive learning, one special school per province and 10 regional assessment centres for special education needs.
As part of the 2017–21 National Development Plan, there was to be continuous revision of curricula at all levels of education to enhance the relevance of the education system for the labour market. The revision was to pay special attention to curriculum assessment and standards monitoring enhancement.
Learning materials and ICT
The 2012 Persons with Disabilities Act states that the ministry responsible for education shall ensure the facilitation of the learning of Braille and sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of deaf persons.
The 2011–15 sector plan aimed to procure ICT equipment for 75% of schools hosting learners with special education needs and to increase the availability of teaching and learning materials for these learners. The government recognized that the limitation in languages of instruction has affected the production of materials for teaching and consequently has excluded students. The Special Education Unit within the Ministry of Education has transcribed selected recommended textbooks and sensitization materials on HIV and AIDS into Braille and sign language, respectively.
ZAMISE is the only government institute responsible for the training of special education teachers specialized to teach children with disabilities at early childhood and primary education levels. The University of Zambia also trains special education teachers for the secondary school level.
ZAMISE is responsible for training special needs teachers in the country along with the Directorate of Teacher Education and Specialized Services. Yet, studies note that most teachers have not received training in early childhood education to teach children with special education needs. A lack of skills in sign language and Braille among teachers also affects access of students with hearing and visual impairments to inclusive education.
The 2011–15 sector plan included an aim to train at least one special teacher in each early childhood education centre and to facilitate the short- and long-term training of teachers in special needs education and inclusive education (8,000 teachers in total). The plan also aimed to review and implement a rural retention scheme for teachers. Finally, Zambia has introduced strategies to improve living conditions for HIV-positive teachers, such as greater access to treatment.
The Special Education Unit has among its functions the development of screening and assessment tools. Special education courses are part of the curriculum in colleges of education and universities. Specialized materials continue to be procured.
Zambia does not have a national monitoring report and the collection of data on students with disabilities has many flaws. However, in 2017, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services conducted a national disability survey to determine the prevalence, types and severity of disability among adults and children in Zambia, as well as the main challenges faced by people with disabilities in participation and use of basic social services (and particularly in education). The eventual policy on inclusive education will identify indicators.