x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Still more to do for disabled students

Attitudes to children with special needs have improved in government schools, but equipment and expertise in dealing with such pupils can be lacking.

Attitudes to children with special needs have improved in government schools, but equipment and expertise in dealing with such pupils can be lacking, according to a researcher at the British University in Dubai. In a report published for the Emirates Foundation, Dr Eman Gaad said provision varied between the emirates but that overall there was a growing awareness of the importance of integrating children with special needs into mainstream education.

Dr Gaad has sent her findings to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which runs education in Dubai. "We are much better than five years ago in terms of knowing about inclusion, but we are far away from inclusion," she said. "There is acceptance of certain types of disability, and teachers know about inclusion rather than ignoring it." In research carried out over 14 months, Dr Gaad looked at three government schools in each emirate and said that in some cases there was a lack of support services for teachers.

Such support services can include everything from containment pens in which to place sick children to software for transferring books to Braille. Although such equipment is frequently available, Dr Gaad said, there was scope for supply to be improved. Schools also have to improve teacher training, reduce work loads and provide more in-class support, according to Dr Gaad, who works as the director of disability services in the Government of Dubai's Community Development Authority on secondment from the university.

Improved infrastructure and special curriculums and assessments needs were also required, Dr Gaad said. "What we really need is to believe in inclusion and to take inclusion seriously." Dr Gaad's research has come at an important time, as 10 public schools are set to receive children with visual or hearing impairments or Down syndrome in the next academic year. This will be a pilot for wider attempts at integrating children with special needs into mainstream schools.

Dr Gaad has presented her full report, which runs to more than 100 pages, to the Emirates Foundation, which funded the research. Dr Gaad is now trying to determine why UAE teachers seem to be better at dealing with physically, rather than intellectually, disabled children. dbardsley@thenational.ae