ABU DHABI // Children with special needs or who are gifted should be taught in mainstream classrooms while being catered to simultaneously with a new curriculum, academics say.
Professionals at an international conference on special education, which began yesterday in the capital, broadly agreed that mainstream education was appropriate in both cases. However, they stressed that both groups needed additional one-to-one teaching.
"Teachers need to make classes more active for the gifted, this could also help the special needs children to be creative in different ways," said Kathryn Smith, a professor of instructional technology and educational foundations at Minnesota State University in the United States.
"They shouldn't be separated, some of the energy and innovation of the gifted can help others. But there has to be a way that the gifted can flourish - they tend to be bored.
"We should work with all the new technological advances to help students move forwards towards their unidentified future. We need to think of these children in the context of the 21st century and change accordingly."
Prof Smith added that parents should not push their children to go into certain fields to help discover their talents.
"Parents should help their children to develop their own skills independently," she said. "These are students that not everybody in class necessarily likes or is eager to have with them.
"The youth of today need to be supported to solve our current world problems in the future."
Dr Clive Tunnicliffe, the senior specialist in gifted and talented at Abu Dhabi Education Council, said that education in the capital will be changed to suit special needs and the gifted and will focus on teacher development.
"There needs to be training for teachers, they need to be better equipped," he said.
The Minister of Education confirmed that the country was ready for this change.
"Sixty per cent of schools in the UAE are expected to become more competent and better qualified to educate gifted and talented students by 2013," Humaid al Qattami said. "Investing in people is the best investment."
Some teachers have expressed concern about special needs children joining mainstream education. "Some tell me that they are frightened, we offer them help," said Kathleen Austin, an inclusion adviser at Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs.
However, Dr Joyce Pittman, an associate clinical professor in education leadership and management at Philadelphia's Drexel University in the US, is worried teachers might not be able to juggle all three groups of students in one class.
"We need to rethink structure and curriculum," she said. "Teachers need assistance, and more help in the classroom."