Public schools in the UAE will soon have a new set of standards for identification and placement of students with special needs and ensure that they are equipped to handle and serve them.
This decision follows the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) recent announcement to completely revamp and reform education in the UAE and ensure that every child has “the right to education.”
The local students, from different age groups, will be identified and integrated into mainstream schools with the help of parents, teachers, principals and ministry officials, this August.
Dr Ayesha Al Jalahama, Acting Director of the Department of Special Education in the MoE, told Khaleej Times, “All students need to be given the right to education. Each child needs to be thoroughly evaluated and with the parents we plan for educational placements that meets the individual needs. We are looking at students who are ready to come from centres into our schools. We are working with the centres closely and are also bringing about awareness in the community that children need to be in schools with their normal peers.”
The ministry has undertaken a project whereby every year students with different disabilities including autism, Down’s Syndrome, visual and hearing impairment, physical and emotional disabilities, will be integrated into regular schools.
Officials say the number of special needs students in schools will slowly increase each year. There are a total of 48 special centres in the UAE monitored by the Ministry of Social Affairs and other governmental entities.
The department is also developing new standards for government schools. According to Dr Ayesha, the new regulations, expected to be in place by the beginning of next academic year will cover the highest possible standards for service delivery for students with special needs.
“We are reviewing existing policies and procedures. We have piloted a number of practices this year which are not in the regulations. Now we are reviewing and changing regulations,” said the present head of the department. “We are retraining our staff in new ways to identify different disabilities. For the first time in the UAE, children with emotional behaviour disability and traumatic brain injury resulting from fall or car accident have been identified,” she pointed out.
The department is working to provide support to about 400 special needs children already studying in public schools.
The ministry clarified that it was not looking at a special curriculum for these children. Instead, it would implement the regular curriculum with accommodations or modifications as needed by the individual student. “Accommodation would mean a change in how students get their information or show what they know. It is not changing the content, level or what they are expected to do,” she stressed.
In special cases, it would modify the curriculum which would mean a probable change in the level, content and provide them with a simplified curriculum, depending on the individual capability of the child. These students would, however, get a different certificate from the regular children if it is modified curriculum.
Annemarie Neubecker, Educational Advisor to the department, said, “Training for general education and special education teachers needs to be continuous, of excellent quality and interactive in its presentation. Leaders, teachers, principals and everyone need to understand that it’s a team effort. We train general teachers as the children come in to their classes.”
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