Im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion for stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties

Fadi Adra ex­plores ways in which the GCC can im­prove ed­u­ca­tion for peo­ple of de­ter­mi­na­tion

Gulf Business - - CONTENTS - Fadi Adra

A CON­SEN­SUS IS grow­ing among GCC states that they must re­vamp their sys­tems for ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, so that these stu­dents im­prove their learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and live to their full po­ten­tial.

How­ever, there are nu­mer­ous cul­tural and in­sti­tu­tional ob­sta­cles, and suc­cess de­pends on a large ecosys­tem of stake­hold­ers co­a­lesc­ing to change the sta­tus quo.

For starters, there are sev­eral rea­sons that GCC coun­tries tend to un­der­es­ti­mate the num­ber of stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties: poor aware­ness and as­sess­ment by teach­ers and par­ents, un­clear di­ag­nos­tic stan­dards to de­tect and clas­sify dis­abil­i­ties, and a so­cially in­grained re­luc­tance to ac­knowl­edge dis­abil­i­ties. This masks the level of need.

Even when there is an early and cor­rect di­ag­no­sis, ed­u­ca­tional and sup­port ser­vices are some­times de­fi­cient. A lack of qual­i­fied spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als means that stu­dents of­ten re­ceive the wrong ed­u­ca­tional method­olo­gies and as­sess­ments. In­suf­fi­cient co­or­di­na­tion among en­ti­ties in the pub­lic, pri­vate, and third sec­tors means some ser­vices are du­pli­cated and oth­ers are not pro­vided. GCC coun­tries also do not re­alise the full po­ten­tial of new as­sis­tive tech­nolo­gies that can greatly help a stu­dent’s abil­ity to learn.

For­tu­nately, GCC states recog­nise these short­com­ings. While each coun­try has a dif­fer­ent start­ing point, they share a com­mit­ment to stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, as en­shrined by the In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Eco­nomic, So­cial and Cul­tural Rights.

To achieve these goals, GCC coun­tries should adopt a learner-cen­tric ap­proach to spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion. We be­lieve this ap­proach must ad­dress four key com­po­nents. It be­gins with un­der­stand­ing the in­di­vid­ual needs of each stu­dent, then or­gan­is­ing learn­ing and sup­port ecosys­tems for him or her, and de­ploy­ing the cor­rect as­sis­tive tech­nolo­gies.

A learner’s spe­cial needs are typ­i­cally iden­ti­fied at school or home, and then re­ported to a med­i­cal provider. The med­i­cal provider must cor­rectly as­sess the learner’s dis­abil­ity to de­velop an in­di­vid­u­alised ed­u­ca­tional plan (IEP). GCC states need to en­sure stan­dard­ised early di­ag­no­sis of spe­cial needs and man­date the im­ple­men­ta­tion of IEPs. In this way, spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als prop­erly sup­port these learn­ers’ spe­cific re­quire­ments, which vary de­pend­ing on the type and sever­ity of the dis­abil­ity.

IEPs also spec­ify dif­fer­ent types of sup­port for each ed­u­ca­tional stage, tran­si­tion­ing from preschool to gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion to higher/tech­ni­cal and con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion.

There also has to be a learn­ing ecosys­tem. GCC states should sup­port a full spec­trum of learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments so op­tions ex­ist to fit a learner’s spe­cific needs, in­clud­ing fully in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tional set­tings, par­tially in­clu­sive, and spe­cial­ist schools. In­clu­sive sys­tems help to so­cialise stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties and si­mul­ta­ne­ously ed­u­cate main­stream stu­dents about those with dis­abil­i­ties.

How­ever, these in­clu­sive pro­grammes must be man­aged closely so teach­ers are not over­whelmed, stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties do not suf­fer bul­ly­ing, and school bud­gets are not stretched. This va­ri­ety of learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments al­lows spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als to es­ca­late or de-es­ca­late the level of in­ter­ven­tion as nec­es­sary.

The learner also needs a sup­port­ive ecosys­tem. It is im­por­tant to in­volve par­ents and care­givers in the ed­u­ca­tion of stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties and of­fer a range of sup­port ser­vices ap­pro­pri­ate to the type and sever­ity of the dis­abil­ity. To man­age the right bal­ance of ser­vices, fully or par­tially in­clu­sive schools should of­fer ba­sic sup­port re­sources for mild and mod­er­ate cases, and part­ner with ex­ter­nal ser­vice providers on an as-needed ba­sis.

GCC ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems should in­te­grate as­sis­tive tech­nolo­gies. These are de­vices that help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties per­form daily ac­tiv­i­ties with greater in­de­pen­dence. Ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems can com­bine in­creas­ingly ad­vanced as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy with dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tional method­olo­gies – such as ‘flipped class­rooms’ and vir­tual re­al­ity – to sup­port so­cial and ed­u­ca­tional in­clu­sion.

In­deed, as­sis­tive tech­nolo­gies are ad­vanc­ing quickly, un­lock­ing new ways to care for stu­dents with spe­cial needs. For ex­am­ple, ro­bots are play­ing a key role sup­port­ing autis­tic chil­dren.

For this learner-cen­tric ap­proach to suc­ceed, gov­ern­ments need to launch pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns to rem­edy un­der­re­port­ing. These cam­paigns should teach peo­ple to recog­nise when a stu­dent has dis­abil­i­ties and must des­tig­ma­tise the di­ag­no­sis. Gov­ern­ments also need to de­fine and co­or­di­nate re­spon­si­bil­i­ties across pub­lic, pri­vate and third sec­tor ac­tors, en­force di­ag­nos­tic and ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards – and be ready to step in to ad­dress any gaps.

By do­ing so, gov­ern­ments will ful­fil an obli­ga­tion to care for their cit­i­zens and will bring im­mense so­ci­etal and eco­nomic ben­e­fits to stu­dents with spe­cial needs and their fam­i­lies.

Fadi Adra

Part­ner at Strat­egy& Mid­dle East

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