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Another step towards inclusivity: Dubai's rule on shadow teachers

Sarwat Nasir/Dubai
Filed on February 1, 2020 | Last updated on February 1, 2020 at 05.12 am
dubai, inclusivity, shadow teachers, inclusivity

KHDA published the 'Directives and Guidelines for Inclusive Education' guidebook last week.

Now that Dubai's education authority has released the legal obligations of schools for inclusive education, parents of children of determination are hoping all academic institutions will be strongly monitored on how much they're charging for shadow teachers.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) published the 'Directives and Guidelines for Inclusive Education' guidebook last week, which listed the legal requirements of schools. This included how schools must justify to the KHDA if and why they are asking parents to hire a shadow teacher, also called a Learning Support Assistant (LSA), for their child.

Andrea Allen, a parent to a child with autism, pays Dh60,000 for her son's LSA - that's excluding the Dh50,000 she pays for his annual tuition fees. "LSAs cost somewhere from Dh3,000 to Dh6,000 a month if they are hired by the school and it's bumped with your tuition fees, though some schools allow monthly payments," Allen, who also works as an LSA, said. "The remuneration that goes to the LSA is less than that."

Parents can either hire their own LSA or their school may hire one, but parents would still be required to pay an additional fee, besides the standard tuition fees, directly to the school.

Allen said most schools and clinics pay only half to the LSAs from what they charge the parents. "Though, I have transparency with my school and I know exactly where my money is going," she added.

According to the KHDA's new policy, if schools already have full-time LSAs at the school, parents will not incur additional charges and the service will be included in the standard annual tuition fees. Though, majority of schools do not provide that service.

Allen stressed that there is a "significant financial toll" parents of children of determination face because of the heavy costs associated with schooling and additional services. She has another child for whom she pays Dh50,000 annual tuition fees, bringing the total cost of her two kids' education to nearly Dh170,000 annually.

"I'm sure you can see what kind of impact that will have on any household," Allen said.

"The majority of special needs parents in the region are in debt - they're paying for therapy and school fees on their credit cards. They've got in such a situation where they can't leave the country because they can't pay off the debt, so you're stuck in this vicious cycle."

Though, with the KHDA's mission to ensure all schools are 100 per cent inclusive and to monitor the charges schools are taking from parents, Allen hopes for a positive change.

"With the announcements of the need of justification for parents to pay more, we are sincerely hoping that will assist all our community in getting out of this horrible rat run we are stuck in," she added.

Another parent, Stephanie Hamilton, was paying well over Dh100,000 over the years for her child's LSA and annual tuition fees at the highest point.

"Some schools, from what I heard, were charging up to Dh15,000 a month and I think, some had been quoted up to Dh19,000 a month. This is in the past though, now that's not as mainstream," she said.

"Over the years, we have amassed a debt paying for these extra fees. When we came back to Dubai in 2012, we didn't factor that in that we're going to have to pay all these extra fees. It's like having an extra child and almost doubling the school fees in effect. Financially, it has taken a toll," she said. 

"We've gone through various difficult points, especially when my husband lost his job. We have gone through near divorce at one point. Anxiety, depression and it does really affect the entire family.

"We are in a much better space now, but not every family has access to tools to be able to move through those things."

Additional fees will have to be justified by schools: KHDA

Dubai private schools will be required to justify additional charges to parents of children of determination through individualised service agreements. 

The agreement will be registered with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which will list out how much and why those charges are being made. 

The KHDA released a 40-page-long guidebook with legal obligations schools have to follow for inclusive education. This is part of the KHDA's mission to ensure all schools in the emirate are 100 per cent inclusive. 

"Private schools across Dubai are required to provide the standard school service for students of determination as part of the provision provided through the school's standard tuition fee," the guidebook said. 

"In exceptional circumstances, an enhanced level of provision may be registered through an individualised service agreement including a stated individualised service fee. 

"All private schools operating within Dubai must ensure that... any charging of additional fees, to fund educational provision for students of determination, can only take place through registering an individualised service agreement with the KHDA. The individualised service agreement and the associated fee to parents can only be applied when the required provision is not available through the standard school service for students of determination." 

Schools are also required to provide parents and the KHDA with clear documentation that the individualised service, such as shadow teachers, is required and a necessary component of the student's educational provision. The agreement can be submitted to the KHDA via an online form. A parent of a child of determination, Stephanie, said these new laws will help monitor schools. 

"In the past, some schools were doing what they want and they were just prescribing children to what they thought were their needs without really having proper assessments done," she said. "To cover themselves, they were saying 'yeah, you have to pay for this extra stuff' because they didn't feel they could handle it themselves." 

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