x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Diabetes case is a diagnosis of schools

A school-admission case about a boy with Type 1 diabetes denonstrates the mixed results we have seen so far as schools move toward equal treatment for special needs students.

The school says it was all just a misunderstanding. But the case of Samir Mohammed's diabetic son is a fine example of the mixed record that the UAE's schools have with special-needs students of all types. The struggle for understanding and inclusion will have to be as persistent and manifold as the problems for which students need help.

The story, reported in The National today, has a half-happy ending: the school, which had refused the boy a place on the basis of his Type 1 diabetes, finally offered to accept him. By then, however, his parents had lost confidence in the establishment, and will send the boy elsewhere.

Diabetes is not a mystery disease; published reports say as many as a fifth of UAE residents are diabetic and another fifth are pre-diabetic. True, Type 1 diabetes, which is usually detected early in childhood, is less common than Type 2, but a lot of work has been done already to overcome the misplaced caution of school officials. In April, the Emirates Diabetes Society and Dubai officials proposed a "bill of rights" for diabetic students, which begins with the right "not be discriminated [against] during the admission or educational process".

Dr Abdul Razzak al Madani of the Diabetes Society was quoted as saying some schools have a "phobia" about the disease. If so, that is a pity. To be sure, diabetic students do have special needs, but these are generally modest by comparison with the requirement placed on schools by students with certain other disabilities or limitations.

In general, schools can cope with diabetic students' needs for regular bathroom breaks, sufficient meal breaks and access to physical education. It is when injections are mentioned that school administrators become anxious, and this is not completely unreasonable: the potential for medical harm, and for lawsuits, cannot be denied.

As with other special needs, the solution can be found in educator training, parent-school co-operation and the provision of the necessary extra resources. The last of these remedies is a concern for governments.

Nobody denies that the whole gamut of special-needs care adds to the cost of education. Equally, however, nobody should deny that developing the human potential of every student has great social value, making it a goal our whole society should share.