The closing of the gap between policy and implementation just got visibly more effective as Dubai accelerated the pace of change in the field of education for special needs children by mandating an inclusion support team for all private schools by 2020. This in effect means that all private schools will have fully transitioned to accepting children with special needs as a matter of principle and policy and will also be equipped with the knowledge assets to do so.

This will open a new chapter in Dubai’s mission to achieve excellence in education as every special needs child will not only be able to attend a mainstream school, but he or she will also have the right support system to make the journey barrier-free. The significance of this outcome cannot be overstated.

The concept of equal learning opportunities is a powerful change maker, but it can also suffer the fate of perpetually remaining a theoretical ideal through patchy implementation. But Dubai, with its continual emphasis on reaching inclusivity goals, is making sure this does not happen. Though some private schools have been partially, and in some cases fully, open to inclusivity, there is still some way to go.

The inclusion support team will be an excellent catalyst to level the ground. Comprising roles such as inclusion champions, support teachers and learning support assistants, it will fill in the crucial gaps in inclusivity skills in schools. For example, the inclusion champion’s contribution as a knowledgeable educator and a skilled practitioner who supports the development of inclusive attitudes and approaches is fundamental to making the shift. Similarly, the support teachers will spend no less than 60 per cent of their time engaged in activities that directly influence the inclusive competence of classroom teachers.

Inclusivity is essential, but it also has its challenges and it is important to understand them and provide the right solutions and the new guide — Implementing Inclusive Education: A Guide for Schools, launched last week by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority — once again shows just how well Dubai understands the needs of the future and is fulfilling them through clear policies and strategies.

Dubai’s systematic stride into a new era in education for children with special needs is being powered by accommodative, empowering, equality oriented practices that are determined to leave behind, once and for all, the segregating, unrewarding, outdated approaches that had defined this segment of society for long.