x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE families find few options for education of special needs children

Special-needs pupils required extra staff with more training, which involves a lot of investment - most of it passed on to the parents.

Rebecca Corley and her daughter Georgina, 15, play a card game known as Pick Up 52 at their home in Jumeirah. Georgina has down syndrome and has not been accepted into any mainstream schools in the UAE. Razan Alzayani / The National
Rebecca Corley and her daughter Georgina, 15, play a card game known as Pick Up 52 at their home in Jumeirah. Georgina has down syndrome and has not been accepted into any mainstream schools in the UAE. Razan Alzayani / The National

DUBAI // Georgina Corley, 15, attends a special-needs centre but should, ideally, be in Grade 7 at a mainstream school.

Her parents said they struggled to find appropriate programmes and support for their daughter, who has Down syndrome.

"Georgina enjoys her secondary course at the centre but educationally she has not continued learning at the same level as she would have at school," said Rebecca Corley, her mother.

"She misses out on the social aspect and interaction with mainstream young adults."

Ms Corley and three other parents run a support group, All for Down syndrome.

"The biggest issue is when a primary school has taken in your child they have agreed to support the learning needs. But then the transition to secondary school becomes a challenge," Ms Corley said. "The learning curve is small in the beginning but then in high school the jump is massive."

She said special-needs pupils required extra staff with more training, which involved a lot of investment - most of it passed on to the parents.

"In a lot of cases schools end up labelling children, prescribe tests by experts and then you have to pay for a shadow teacher," she said. "It can cost anywhere between Dh5,000 to Dh12,000 a month."

The high cost and lack of options push many parents towards centres, which are a setback for high-functioning special-needs pupils.

Ms Corley said: "I've been to three head teachers to make sure that parents who have applied for an admission for their child are genuinely on the waiting list and they have a chance to get a place."

Fiona Cottam, chief executive at Jumeirah College, which was rated Outstanding by school inspectors this year, said its admission procedures were transparent and open to all children.

"Regardless of ability, [pupils] are fully supported throughout their education."

aahmed@thenational.ae