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Technology is transforming special needs education in the UAE, not only by improving inclusion but also by eliminating barriers to learning. The rise of assistive learning products has freed students from constant teacher engagement, producing confident young people of determination who are able to keep up with their peers.

“Over the past ten years, public and private schools across the UAE have been investing in technology that has greatly facilitated inclusion in the classroom,” says Seema Vinod, Coordinator — Educational Technology, Innoventures Education, which manages multi-curricular international schools and nurseries in Dubai.

“The use of planned ICT in special needs education makes the curriculum more accessible to students.”

At all educational levels across the UAE, these changes take the form of better trained educators, more inclusive curricula and specially equipped facilities. An example is the creation of resource rooms, which provide behavioural therapy and treatments for young people with learning, developmental and physical disabilities, as well as with speech impediments.

Those facilities could be more widespread, particularly in Dubai, when students return to schools. In line with the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework, all private education is required to be fully inclusive as of this year.

“Schools and centres for special needs are now allotting specific budgets for facilities and resources needed by people of determination,” says Manish Bakshi, MD of BenQ ME, a supplier of educational technology for assistive learning.

BenQ provides interactive flat panels and smart signages, as well as interactive screens with handwriting recognition so students with motor skill difficulties can share their ideas more easily with teachers and peers.

The nature of the challenge means that special needs education has already embraced emerging technologies that are only just making their presence felt in other sectors, says Fadi Hani, Vice-President — Middle East, Africa and Turkey at communications services company Avaya.

“If you look at how schools interact with students and parents, almost every aspect of the relationship has been affected by fourth industrial revolution technologies. Lessons are planned through cloud-based scheduling tools; lessons are delivered through cloud-based video collaboration tools like Avaya Spaces; students are going mobile, learning from anywhere; and large datasets are providing analytics into the effectiveness of certain curricula and student performance. The education sector, including special needs education, has already moved to this new paradigm.”

As we have seen with the coronavirus pandemic, collaboration solutions are becoming more important than ever. Virtual classrooms and distance learning is now a reality thanks to our connected learning environments.

“The main difference between school technologies today and those deployed five years ago is the assumption of mobile. The applications for special needs educators is that they can take advantage of increased connectivity with their students — whether that’s through a collaboration app, an online learning portal, or a simple task management app — and deliver better levels of support where needed,” Hani adds.