Admitting her four-year-old son with speech delay to a mainstream school has become a worrisome matter for Sudha Mittal.
“I’ve lived in Dubai for more than 10 years, and my son Raghav has a speech delay. The doctors advised me to put him in the nursery when he was three years old. The nursery asked me to withdraw the admission citing my child’s behaviour differences as the reason.”
Since then Mittal has applied at around 10 to 15 Indian schools for admission to KG1 (Lower Kindergarten).”My son can communicate basic questions like his name and age and knows basic colours, animals very well. But, the schools don’t accept him the moment I tell them about his speech delay. They tell me that they don’t have enough facilities to accommodate my child. I had offered to act as a shadowing teacher for my son, but still the schools closed the doors on me.
“So, at the moment my child is at home. I have visited several centres at Dubai Healthcare City. They charge Dh500 for 1 hour session (speech). It is expensive for me,” Mittal said.
She personally knows a number of parents who have left the UAE due to not being able to provide proper schooling for their children with special needs, and is a part of a social media messenger WhatsApp group with 40 to 50 members facing the same situation as her. “It is painful as a parent to see other children going to school and frustrating for my child who wants to attend school eagerly.”
Savio D’Souza, an Indian national born and brought up in the UAE, has a five-and-a-half-year-old son, R. D’Souza, who was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), after the family noticed developmental delays in his milestones like speech. D’Souza has been facing a similar situation regarding her son’s admission to mainstream schools. “My son aged five and half is facing a problem with admissions for the past one and a half year. My every effort to get him into mainstream schooling is in vain with every excuse given from schools saying that they don’t have enough quota from the ministry to admit these children, or that they do not have the staff to provide the required support.”
When D’Souza contacted the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the authority responded that they cannot force the schools to admit children with special needs and gave them a list of schools that accept special students. D’Souza had an incident that left her shaken.
A counsellor at one of the schools she applied for her son’s admission assessed R. D’Souza as they would do a child with no special needs. When S. D’Souza called the counsellor for a final say, the counsellor termed her son as “useless” and said: “We don’t care, you can go to the KHDA if you life.”
D’Souza knows many families facing similar problem and says even if a child gets admitted to a mainstream school, parents get notified by schools within a year that their children have to be removed because of behavioural issues.
“I wish KHDA sets guidelines for schools to accept children with special needs or enough facilities to provide home schooling for children. I do not want any other parent to go through what I have experienced regarding my son’s situation. When my son looks at his sister getting ready for school; he puts his school bag on his shoulder. It is very frustrating for him as well after roaming from school to school for his admission process,” D’Souza said.
The troubles don’t end with getting children with special needs admitted to schools but continues through the schooling years; Christabelle Miranda is facing difficulties in shifting her son Craig to another school.
She told Gulf News: “My child is now 12 years of age and was diagnosed with ADHD at two and half years of age. The school he goes to has only till Grade 8, and now we need to find a school that has till Grade 12. He never needed a shadow teacher, only needed a little extra nudge to get things done in class and now receives a modified paper in English and Maths.”
Miranda had trouble right from the beginning with applying to schools. The institutions where Craig would get admission, would eventually say, “we can’t handle him, he needs to be taken to special school”, just after a month of joining school.
She said: “I struggle now to find a school that will take him. Most schools say they can only take one child with special needs per class and unfortunately that child with special needs is already there. Other schools conduct an entrance test with no modified paper and they know that the child will most probably fail, so the school has not rejected the child but the child is not capable to handle that syllabus.
“I know so many parents who keep their children at home because schools refuse children with issues such as ADHD. Children like my son deserve to be schooled and have a right to a ‘normal life’.”
Khuzaima Taher finds himself in a similar situation as Miranda. “My five-year-old child Tasneem is going to a mainstream school in KG1 with CBSE Syllabus in Sharjah, where she improved a lot though she is a slow learner. The school called us to withdraw her and seek admission in a school with O level syllabus for KG2. Her withdrawal reason was on the basis that they don’t have facilities, because with CBSE syllabus being tough, she will not cope up with it. We requested them to get her to repeat KG1 if she is slow, but they said that her age does not fit the KG1 criteria. We tried other schools for KG1 admissions but all rejected her on the basis of her age as per the law. KG2 enrolment exams are so tough that my child got rejected.”
Taher has visited 10 to 15 schools, called 30 to 40 schools in Dubai and Sharjah for admission mentioning his child is a slow learner.
He said: “They straight away say that admissions are full or quota is full. Another common line is that they don’t have facilities, you can try with Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs. We approached the KHDA with all the detailed reports of my child and they replied with a list of schools. Some of the schools have a high fee, few told us their quotas are full, and the rest told us they don’t have facilities for such children.
“We would request the KHDA to support more the education for children with special needs and also to give age extensions for admission and get schools to broaden the scope for such children.”
We spoke to a student counsellor, who did not wish to be named, about the admission process at her school.
“There is an entrance test at the time of admission. A child’s behaviour and other aspects are observed during this test. If the child does not pass the exam or if the school observes that the school can support the child, only then they are taken in. If the school cannot support and provide facilities required for a child with special needs, eventually the child will not benefit,” she said.
The school does not have any specific quota for children with special needs as their overall vacancies are limited. Age bar is also another problem when it comes to admission of children with special needs.
Gulf News also spoke to the counsellor of special education at Pristine Private School.
“We have no limited quota for special needs children and only accept students depending on number of seats available,” she said.
As per school policy every student seeking admission at the school has to undergo a test to check his or her knowledge level.
— The writer is an intern at the Readers Desk with Gulf News.