x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Schools 'not catering for special needs'

Inspectors say most Indian and Pakistani schools do not identify and support pupils' differences.

DUBAI // Pupils with special education needs do not receive the support they need in most of the emirate's south Asian schools, a report says.

The vast majority of Dubai's 24 Indian and Pakistani schools, which educate more than 63,000 pupils, do not effectively identify the full range of special needs, the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) report for 2011 to 2012 says.

"It's shocking that teachers think special needs is a child with a visible disability," said Jameela Al Muhairi, the chief of the DSIB. "At a particular school with 5,000 children we were told only five have special education needs. What? That is not possible."

Ms Al Muhairi said it was particularly troubling to find educators who had no grasp of what special needs were, and labelled children who acted differently as badly behaved.

"They think the child is spoilt or hyperactive but cannot understand the underlying problem," she said.

School inspectors found that even if children were diagnosed with a disability they were not properly supported and did not have dedicated specialists to help them progress.

"The reasons for underachievement are often not identified accurately," noted the report, which was released yesterday. "Lessons were not planned to meet the range of learners' needs in the classroom."

High-achieving pupils were also not challenged to extend their thinking in lessons, inspectors said.

A teacher from the Buds Public School, which received an unsatisfactory grade, said it did not have special-needs teachers or resources because "we don't have children with special needs".

But according to the school's report, it did not address the needs of different pupils.

"Teachers tended to give all the students work of a similar challenge level," it said. "The level of work was not sufficiently varied to meet the needs of all groups."

Gulshan Kavarana, the founder of Special Families Support, a group that helps families of children with special needs, said many parents were dissatisfied with poor integration in schools.

"Even at some really good Indian schools, the people running the special-education department have no qualifications and are in no position to diagnose children," Ms Kavarana said.

But she said schools might not realistically be ready to follow an inclusion policy.

"At schools where there are many children in a class and the emphasis is on finishing the syllabus, teachers cannot pay attention to individual needs," Ms Kavarana said.

"Parents of the other children do not want them at parties or in the same class. They end up with no friends and it badly affects their confidence as they begin to consider themselves dumb."

The DSIB takes a different view.

"For us, inclusion means access to education for all children," said Ms Al Muhairi.

The report said the two schools that received an outstanding ranking had a clear identification procedure and support in place for special education needs.

One, the Indian High School (IHS), was found to have an effective and rigorous system of monitoring pupils with learning difficulties.

Pupils were well supported in class by shadow teachers and made good progress in lessons, the report said.

Ashok Kumar, the chief executive of IHS, said the system was successful but relied on parental cooperation.

"The mindset of the parents must change because some still feel, 'why should my child sit with a child who has a learning difficulty?'" Mr Kumar said.

Of the 24 schools inspected, three Pakistani schools and two Indian schools were ranked unsatisfactory. For the other 19 schools, all Indian, 10 were ranked acceptable, seven as good and two as outstanding.

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, the director general of Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which runs the DSIB, said some schools were trying hard to make a difference but more challenges had to be overcome.

"Several have applied innovative solution to overcome their shortcomings and we want these ideas to be transported to other schools too," Dr Al Karam said.

aahmed@thenational.ae