By the Inclusive Education Unit – Curriculum Design and Materials Division
Ministry of Education Sports & Culture (MESC)
Many may wonder what Inclusive Education is and to what extent it is taking place in Samoa’s education system.
Inclusive Education is a system that provides quality education for all learners, including children with disabilities and learning difficulties. It is about welcoming and providing appropriate learning support for the inclusion of these children in our schools to ensure no one is left behind.
The implementation of Inclusive Education has been a long journey. More than 10 years ago the Government of Australia partnered with the Government of Samoa to pioneer the support for this system in Samoa. The Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC), as the Government of Samoa’s implementing agency, has worked alongside NGOs and special schools to deliver inclusive education in Samoa. Compared to 10 years ago, MESC and partners have achieved a lot to be proud of. There is an Inclusive Education Unit within the Curriculum Design and Materials Division of MESC, reflecting Samoa’s commitment to inclusive education across all levels.
The Inclusive Education Unit – What does it do?
MESC Inclusive Education Unit coordinates activities across sectors in meeting the challenge to increase inclusivity in our schools. This includes training and working with Teachers, Principals and School Inspectors to change teaching practices to increase student participation and meet the learning needs of all students including those with different learning needs. Supplementary resources have been created and provided to schools.
The Unit works with inclusive education service providers, SENESE and Samoa Blind Persons Association to support students with disabilities in mainstream schools. Importantly, they also work with special schools, Loto Taumafai Society for People with Disability and Aoga Fiamalamalama, supporting them in implementing MESC Inclusive Education Policy.
Australian Volunteers’ Support
The Ministry has been fortunate to have had a group of skilled volunteers from Australia who have worked closely with the Inclusive Education Unit. The Australian Government prioritises aid to Government of Samoa for Disability Service Programs. The Australian Volunteer Program, administered through the AVI office in Apia, is part of this support. They have been generous in providing five Australian Volunteers who have worked collaboratively with the Inclusive Education Unit over the past 2 years.
This specialist team included: an audiologist Haylene Goh, early childhood education teacher trainer Anneliesje Brown, speech language therapist Janet Brearley plus two inclusive education teacher trainers Patricia Miles and Dawn Rogers. These volunteers have been instrumental in:
- assisting with the development of key documents, guidelines and supplementary resources to support principals and teachers in the implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy across Samoa,
- working to develop teacher and principals’ skills within designated Inclusive Education Champion Schools, Moata’a and Sa’anapu Primary Schools, and in special schools,
- running national trainings for teachers, principals and inspectors,
- providing the training for the Annual National Hearing Screening of all Year one students and assisting in the first national screening in 2019,
- assisting the Curriculum, Design and Materials Division in implementing the 2019 Samoa Schools Innovation in Literacy, Numeracy and Science program,
- Providing seminars for NUS Faculty of Education on disability-inclusion topics,
- development of the Samoa Inclusive Education Handbook to guide schools on this journey of improving teaching and learning for all.
- volunteering with the rest of MESC staff throughout the Pacific Games 2019 in roles allocated to them by PG volunteer organisers
Prime Minister supports Inclusive Education
The MESC Inclusive Education Unit staff and volunteers were honoured to meet with the Honourable Prime Minister, Hon Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi who spoke highly of the importance of Inclusive Education for Samoa and for his own district.
What are the challenges?
Driving Inclusive Education in Samoa hasn’t been easy. Barriers to achieving some of the Inclusive Education goals are large class sizes in schools, limited teacher knowledge of disability, lack of appropriate learning resources in the schools and a teacher-centred approach in many classrooms. It is a ‘work in progress’ to move teacher practice from ‘rote style’ learning to a more student-centred approach where teaching strategies more effectively cater for differing learning levels and needs.
What are the goals for Inclusive Education in Samoa?
The future will continue to be challenging, but the Ministry is optimistic that progress will continue, ensuring Samoan schools and preschools become increasingly inclusive in their provision of quality education to all our children. The goal is to build bridges for those with learning difficulties from community to all levels of education to support full social participation of people with disabilities in Samoa.