DUBAI // A majority of schools in Dubai lack the proper provisions to support children with special needs. Schools that do are oversubscribed or are unaffordable.
This year's annual education report by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the private school regulator in the emirate, raises the concern of poor quality programmes for children with special needs in many schools.
"Leaders and school managers do not always have positive attitudes towards inclusion," the report said. "Many schools whose fees are in the mid and low range do not offer high quality provision."
Teachers are not trained to identify children with special needs according to the report.
"Too many schools claim they do not have any students with special educational needs. Pupils experiencing difficulties are often labelled 'slow learners' and given little support."
A significant number of teachers fail to adapt lessons for special needs pupils, and rely on low-level activities and repetition sessions that are ineffective.
Though all schools are required to enrol children with special education needs, the quality of programmes varies because there are no guidelines or training for teachers.
In 2009, the Ministry of Education launched the School for All handbook for state and private schools that lays out general rules for special education programmes and services. The guidelines are yet to be enforced in private schools.
The Dubai British School (DBS) is among the handful institutions that has set up a strong special needs support department.
Claire Hitchings, head of extended learning at DBS, said all teachers are considered teachers of children with special education needs.
"To help children who have special education needs, the school will adopt a graduated response...and brings specialist expertise to bear on the difficulties that child may be experiencing.
DBS, whose special needs support department received a high rating by school inspectors, assesses the child's current level of attainment through classroom assessments and an individualised education plan is developed.
The plan looks at short-term goals set for the child, teacher strategies and provisions that need to be put in place for assistance, including education psychologists and speech therapists. The school also runs staff development and training workshops to introduce effective methods in teaching children with special needs.
However, any additional special needs support comes at a huge additional cost to parents. A new fee framework announced by the Dubai education authority this year allows schools that score good marks in inspections to apply for a bigger increases if they offer special needs programmes.