x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Teachers begin training as more disabled pupils enter state schools

Fifty teachers from eight Dubai schools attended this week's initial programme, organised jointly by the KHDA.

DUBAI // State teachers have begun training to work with disabled children as plans to educate the youngsters in mainstream schools take shape. Fifty teachers from eight Dubai schools attended this week's initial programme, organised jointly by Dubai's schools regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), and the Community Development Authority, the government body tasked with social development.

Dr Bushra al Mulla, the director of the Dubai Early Child Development Centre, which ran the training, said it covered the basics. In the autumn, the centre will run more in-depth sessions. Most state school teachers have little or no experience of working with disabled children. In the past, disabled Emirati children went to government centres, where they did not have the chance to earn an academic diploma, even if they were capable of doing so.

That is slowly changing, as part of a nationwide push to include disabled children in mainstream education. However, services for disabled children are seriously lacking. Most children, with even mild disabilities, are in centres rather than schools. Many private schools do not have wheelchair access. Officials at the Ministry of Education have said they intend to improve services in both public and private schools.

In May, the ministry released a plan for special education, which will see more children integrated into 110 mainstream public schools over the next three years. Private schools have been told that they should take children with disabilities, but the ministry has not said when that will become mandatory. At the moment, there are about 400 children with disabilities at state schools across the country.

Next year, the KHDA will launch a pilot programme to start integrating disabled children into the public school system. Ten children will be moved from centres and into regular schools. At present, there are just two disabled children in Dubai public schools, according to the KHDA. But before children can be moved, teachers have to be trained to work with them and specialists have to be hired. Dr al Mulla said the teachers who took part in the sessions this week had a range of experience. Some had never worked with disabled children, while others were trained as special education teachers.

Teachers were briefed on how to recognise disabilities, and coached on the best way to integrate disabled children into mainstream schools. The workshops also addressed ways of tailoring the curriculum for children with special needs. "This was a very general training," Dr al Mulla said, adding that Dubai schools had a long way to go. "We have to start from scratch with the general information," she said.

A consultant who has worked in public schools in several emirates echoed Dr al Mulla's comments. "There's a long way to go," said the consultant, who did not want to be named. klewis@thenational.ae