We pay a great human cost for unresponsive schools
The classroom is full of studious-looking 8-year-olds quietly completing their homework. The teacher sits at her desk and shuffles through a pile of papers. The monotony is broken by a green-eyed boy, my brother. He can't seem to stop fidgeting. He holds his pencil case up and shakes it and smiles at the sound it makes. He pokes the person sitting next to him and deliberately drops his books on the floor. He looks through his school bag and takes out a tiny toy car and spins it in circles on his desk.
My little brother isn't behaving poorly. He just suffers from ADHD.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects 3 to 5 per cent of children globally. ADHD makes it almost impossible for my little brother to sit quietly for any length of time, or, in fact, to focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes.
ADHD is one of the most commonly studied and diagnosed disorders in children, and yet schools in the UAE are sadly ill-equipped to provide for those who suffer from it.
A few years ago the Ministry of Education launched a document called School For All, giving schools general guidelines for catering to students with special needs. But these guidelines are, unfortunately, not enforced. It remains at the school's discretion to decide if they will accommodate the needs of such students. Most schools opt not to, as such measures are expensive and would require time-consuming efforts such as retraining teachers and providing specialised classrooms and individual curriculums.
Due to complications at birth, my little brother has various learning disabilities that make it hard for him to learn how to read, write, and speak. All his problems are made worse by the lack of understanding he, and the rest of my family, are faced with in schools.
The overwhelming majority of schools refuse to go out of their way to provide programmes for students with learning disabilities. My parents have often been told to simply pull my little brother out of the private school he attends because educating him is too much of a burden.
The UAE is filled with all manner of gifted, intelligent students. But the system rewards only a certain type of giftedness. The students who get the best grades are often those who can best memorise their way through school.
My 17-year-old sister has struggled with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and dyslexia for as long as I can remember. ADD affects a person's ability to focus for any length of time. Dyslexia impairs a person's ability to read, write, spell and memorise.
My sister has spent most of her life thinking she is slightly less smart than everyone else as she struggled to read long passages in literature classes, and misspelt simple words.
My sister wasn't diagnosed with dyslexia till she was 9, and ADD till she was 15. Had there been more awareness about both disorders in schools it would not have taken that long to diagnose her. She graduated from her private high school recently. She is a tremendously talented artist, and yet she has never once been given support to develop her creative skills, thanks to the fact that schools here favour a heavy focus on maths and science.
Our education system, right now, lacks creativity and is largely uninspiring. Schools are sadly ill-equipped to help the students who do not live up to the parameters set by unimaginative exams and tired teachers. Creativity and individuality are actively discouraged. Most schools have a serious shortfall in creativity-directed subjects.
Students suffering from problems like the ones my siblings suffer from are often left in the dust as everyone else races to get their degrees in engineering or business studies.
The educational system in the UAE needs reform, which, fortunately, seems to be underway. To cater to the needs of the breathtaking variety of talent present in our students, Adec has been working on revamping the education system to be more pupil-centred, so that the needs of individual children are met by the schools.
This would be a great move away from the standard school systems that allow so many students to fall through the cracks. Here's hoping for a better tomorrow in our schools - and the lives of their students.
Rabha Ashry is a second year student at NYU Abu Dhabi who was raised in Abu Dhabi.
On Twitter: @RabhaAshry
Updated: August 10, 2012 04:00 AM