Classroom assistants will soon be employed in Abu Dhabi's government schools to support children with special needs.
Across the country, the level of integration of pupils with special needs at state schools has risen by 23.4 per cent between 2009 and last year, said Humaid Mohammed Al Qattami, the Minister of Education.
There were 8,019 special-needs pupils enrolled at state schools in the 2010-2011 academic year, he told The National's Arabic-language sister newspaper, Al Ittihad. More than 4,500 pupils with special needs are integrated into mainstream government schools in Abu Dhabi.
"The council has identified the need for additional education staff, including classroom assistants," said a spokesman of the special-needs department at Adec, the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
He said the council planned to address the problem with a new staffing structure and was working with the Higher Colleges of Technology, which offers an accredited classroom assistant course. "We will engage further with HCT to support a pathway for qualified classroom assistants following the approval of the new school model staffing structure."
The absence of teacher aids has been a long standing issue at government schools. With a growing emphasis on individualised learning, teachers have complained about increased paperwork and difficulties in teaching big classes without help.
Dr Bushra Al Mulla, the director of the Dubai Early Childhood Development Centre at the community development authority, said the centre offered an early intervention programme and cooperated with teachers to integrate children with special needs at state schools in Dubai.
"Government schools do not have assistant teachers and this makes it hard for them to take on children with special needs," she said. "So our therapists work with the teachers to develop the individual education plan."
The centre has worked with more than 30 schools in Dubai and trained about 93 teachers this year.
The British University in Dubai and the UAE Down Syndrome Association also started a programme to train Emirati women to work as teaching assistants in schools run by the Ministry of Education in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
The programme gives women with a secondary school education an opportunity to make a career in teaching while filling a gap of assistants in government schools.