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Centralised hiring of teaching assistants sought

Parents concerned about high costs of Learning Support Assistants

Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
Rashid, who has autism, with his parents Dalya and Yousuf at their home along with his elder sister Mariam.
Gulf News

Dubai: Educators and parents of students with special needs have called for a centralised system through which Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) are hired in Dubai.

Gulf News has learnt that two methods are followed — LSAs are hired through the school with the parent paying the LSA for the additional support, and second, LSAs are hired and paid directly by parents without the school’s involvement.

Several issues have come to light including the lack of regulation in fee structure for a LSAs, lack of accountability on the part of the school when hiring LSAs, and the standards of an LSA.

Further Gulf News has learnt how certain schools refuse admission unless the child with special needs is accompanied by an LSA.

Gulf News approached the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) to learn if the education system regulates the appointments of LSAs.

Both bodies did not respond by press deadline.

Gulf News spoke to experts in education and parents.

The definition of a LSA needs to be clear, said Dr Onita Nakra, educational psychologist and counsellor, American School of Dubai.

She pointed out that there is confusion in Dubai schools about the roles of a teaching assistant and a shadow teacher.

Appropriate qualification

She said: “A shadow teacher has to have appropriate qualification. For example, a student with autism is provided with a shadow teacher so that the class teacher can go on with the business of teaching. The shadow teacher should ideally partner with the main teacher for student growth to occur.”

Fiona Coutts, a Dubai-based education consultant with 15 years experience in the field, said that schools need to work on strengthening their special education departments and train special educators so every child who needs additional support can be catered to.

Fabian Baptista, an ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) therapist and founder of Education Development Solutions, Dubai, said some mainstream schools are ill-equipped to accommodate as well as to facilitate special needs education. She said, “There ought to be a centralised system and standards.”

Parent Barbara Mitchell spoke on the cost factor. She said: “Our current shadow teacher, a former nanny, has only basic qualifications, but she is good with our six-and-a-half-year old son with autism. We pay her Dh2,000 per month. We cannot afford to pay Dh5,000 for a qualified shadow teacher.”

Another parent said, “In addition to high school fees we have to pay an excess of Dh5,000-Dh7,000 per month for a shadow teacher. Even then we aren’t assured of a qualified person through the school.”