x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

New college courses to end special needs crisis

Zayed University and Abu Dhabi University will offer two-year master's degrees to train special education teachers.

Two universities will launch postgraduate courses in special education this autumn, to address the desperate shortage of special-needs teachers.

Zayed University and Abu Dhabi University will offer two-year master's degrees in the field, with each aiming to train around 25 specialists to work in schools and centres around the country.

"There's a huge need for qualified special-needs teachers," said Dr Jacob Chacko, a professor who helped to set up the ADU programme.

Schools are crying out for more trained special-needs teachers. Specialist schools are short of places, and education authorities are keen for pupils with special needs to be better integrated into mainstream education.

The latest report by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau found that most schools lack an inclusive policy to accommodate physical and learning disabilities.

There are exceptions. Awladona school in Sharjah caters for children and young people with conditions such as Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

Maha Khouzamy, who owns the school, welcomed the new master's degrees, though she said they would have to be comprehensive to meet the diverse needs of children such as those at Awladona.

"We really need more experts but it's a very complex topic," she said. "These specialists must understand areas such as behaviour modification and creating individual education plans.

"This is not easy as each child is different, and the expert must understand the difference between the child's real age and mental age. A six-year-old with special needs cannot study a curriculum designed for any six-year-old."

She said teaching methods need a stable base, especially with the steady turnover of teachers from countries such as the UK and US.

Dr Eman Gaad from the British University of Dubai, whose doctoral work focuses on special education across the country, said: "As educators we always welcome new opportunities that produce more skilful special educators, especially in Abu Dhabi."

Zayed University will introduce the master's degree in special education in November at its campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

At Dh84,000 for two years, the course is not cheap - especially when the teachers it is aimed at earn around Dh16,000 a month.

ADU's course will cost around Dh60,000 for two years.

"You have to really want it and see that it would benefit you in the long run as an investment for the future and the opportunities out there," said Dr Robin Dada, the dean of Zayed University's education faculty.

Without specialist scholarships on offer, she fears it might be hard to fill the course's 25 places. "There is a need for people who actively want to work with people with special needs," she said.

Her predecessor, Dr Peggy Blackwell, who left last year after six years at the university, said the problem with special education courses is the lack of academics to teach them.

When Zayed University designed the programme, it had three specialists, but all left for jobs elsewhere - a common problem for UAE universities.

"We've had so many people asking for the special education programme but it's just about manpower," Dr Dada said. "You have to have a PhD in special education to teach it, and while Zayed has educators with PhDs in education, they are not in special education."

mswan@thenational.ae

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