Regular education classrooms are adopting special education programmes to equip students with special needs to function in daily living and working environments
Before discussing relevant special education programmes it is important to realise what the term special education denotes. In the UAE, special education is defined by the Ministry of Education (MoE) as any educational programme and practice designed for students with disabilities or gifted and talented students, whose mental ability, physical ability, emotional functioning, etc. require special teaching approaches, equipment, or instruction within or outside of a regular classroom.
Students who qualify for special education programmes should have an Individual Education Programme (IEP), which is essentially a written description of the present level of performance, measurable goals as well as the special education programmes and services that are required to equip a student with special needs, as defined by the MoE.
In the event that the student qualifies for special education services with the eligibility category of gifted and talented, he or she should receive an Advanced Learning Program (ALP). The ALP is defined as a written record of gifted and talented programming utilised with each gifted child and considered in educational planning and decision making. The ALP typically requires that gifted and talented students be provided with additional enrichment programmes as well as curricular and extracurricular activities that are selected based on the student’s performance on tests, observations and classroom performance, according to the MoE.
It is best practice in the field of special education to place students in the least restrictive environment. The basic principle in the least restrictive environment includes a variety of options available and designed to meet the diverse and changing needs of students, ensuring that students with disabilities gain access to services that are suitable to them and in places where students can learn successfully.
In the UAE we have many examples of special education programmes available. One of the emerging philosophies and least restrictive environments would be inclusion within a Regular Education Classroom with community-based support. Students with special needs may be enrolled in a regular education classroom and receive special education support service from community providers.
Many schools are adapting this model and philosophy of education for students with special needs because it promotes the best option for learning. There are other models of special education programmes that are more restrictive such as centres and medical-based facilities. These are considerations only if the student cannot be placed in the regular classroom.
Special education programmes are protected and governed by law. UAE Federal Law No. 29/2006 Regarding the Rights of People with Special Needs ensures the rights of the family to receive appropriate services for them and for students with special needs.
At the Sunshine Learning Difficulties Centre, we provide consultancy support to schools, centres and families of students with special needs as well as the gifted and talented. We assist in the design of proper special education programmes and school placement to ensure the student’s needs are met Above all remember, “special education is a service not a place”.
— The writer is the Co-Founder/Director of Special Education Programmes at the Sunshine Learning Difficulties Centre