Many point to lack of funding for training and technology.
Teachers say they need help integrating special needs pupils
AL AIN // Students with special needs are increasingly being enrolled in mainstream schools, but many teachers warn that they and their institutions are not yet equipped to meet associated education requirements.
Educators and experts convened yesterday at the Embracing Inclusion conference at Al Ain Men's College to discuss the advantages and challenges of placing students with special needs in public schools.
The category includes students with learning disorders, those who are physically disabled, and those who are gifted.
In an attempt to provide equal opportunities for these students, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) has moved many of them from specialised centres into public schools. Around 4,600 special needs students attend public schools in the capital.
Experts at the conference agreed that special education should not be seen as a separate component, but part of an overall framework that caters to all children.
"A child cannot be fit to the system," said Sir John Jones, author of the The Magic Weaving Business and a speaker at the conference. "In fact, the system has to be fit to the child's requirement."
But teachers said a shortage of specialists and resources has left them ill-equipped to handle the influx.
The lack of resources is particularly hard on schools in smaller towns.
Ahmed al Borea, a member of the additional learning team at the Al Farooq Boys School in Liwa, said the location of his institution posed many challenges.
"We are so far away from Abu Dhabi that every action to help these students gets delayed," he said.
"We have students who stutter, whose motor skills are not developed, some have cognitive delays and some have hearing impairment, but we do not have the facilities or the professionals to deal with their problems."
"We know there is a need to enhance services to children with special needs," said Adam Hughes, senior manager of Disability Education at Adec. "Part of that service provision includes recruiting special education teachers and specialists in the areas of speech, language, hearing and vision."
Mr Hughes said special needs staff was assigned to every region, but admitted there were still discrepancies between schools when it comes to resources.
"Not all schools have special needs teachers," he said. "Some schools have got a wealth of resources and some schools have none. We need to bridge that gap by mapping those resources and identifying what services the schools need."
Mr Hughes added that Adec was working with various partners, including education colleges and universities, to provide training for teachers.
Conference attendees also discussed the use of technological resources. According to Dr Lisa Dieker, a professor at the University of Central Florida, "Technology provides a level playing field for any disability, and most of it is cheap or free."
She spoke to teachers about the ways iPads and virtual learning platforms can be used to teach children with disabilities.
But Sellemi Abdulhafeeth, a teacher coordinator at a public school in Liwa, said financial restrictions limit access to the technology and resources students might need.
"Many times the schools are unaware of our services, and that is a problem, too," said Mr Hughes. He said Adec had spent more than Dh4 million on assistive technology for students with special needs in schools.
Editorial, page a23