Dubai, UAE: Educators from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah gathered this week to share their experiences and expertise in teaching children with special needs and learning difficulties.
The Special Educational Needs Coordinators Network (Senco) aims to offer teachers a support network, and to bring the issue of special needs and inclusive education to the attention of policymakers.
Kathy Hoopman, who has a child with Asperger Syndrome and has written books on the topic, addressed a group of 75 teachers from 50 schools on Wednesday.
“For parents, it can be frustrating when they realise what is needed [to deal with such conditions], especially here in Dubai,” she said. “It has got better, but 10 years ago there just weren’t services people needed.”
Michael Clack, the head of Raffles International School, the event’s host, said: “I don’t think we have enough opportunity to come together with fellow professionals and share our experiences, so this is very welcome.” Of the 1,950 pupils at Raffles International, 29 had special needs and another about 60 pupils had learning difficulties.
Mr Clack said the school had three specialist teachers, whose job it was to help train the rest of the staff. “Every year we provide specialist training for all teachers,” he said.
He, however, said there was much to be done on the issue of inclusive education.
“We’re heading in the right direction, but there is a lot more that can be done here. A good first step is what is happening now, with groups like this providing the support, training to teachers. But the next thing is to educate the parents because they are crying out for support.”
Lara Alsasen, a special needs teacher from the newly-opened Ontario International Canadian School, and one of the founding members of Senco, said she felt isolated when she arrived in the UAE in August.
“I felt like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “I didn’t know what existed for students and I wanted to know what was going on here. And looking at how many people we have here, it is clear we really need this.
“When you’re in your own school it can be quite small, and you need to bounce ideas off each other.”
Rethah Al Mousawi, an Emirati whose six-year-old son Abdullah has Asperger syndrome, said there had been many challenges over the years to get the right kind of support as a parent, although things were changing.
“The Dubai Autism Centre really shows the government is putting its support behind this,” he said. “In the UAE in general, things have changed in the past 10 years. Before, when a child was diagnosed with autism, you would try to get a therapist to come and work with your child at home, but this has started to change.”
© The National
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