Dubai: It took more than 40 rejections in a span of weeks for Ruby, now 11, to get admitted to a mainstream private school in Dubai.
Steph Hamilton, Ruby’s mother, had to run from one school to the next, pleading with school principals to admit her daughter who has Down syndrome to get admitted just like everyone else.
“It was like having a firing squad hit you and it’s very hurtful. Every human being knows what it feels like to be rejected in some way,” Hamilton told a group of educators on Thursday.
Hope shone on the mother and daughter when, finally, GEMS Winchester School decided to admit Ruby in 2014.
“Her first day in school was incredible but at the same time, bittersweet, because the fight to get to that point was exhausting. It’s bittersweet in the sense that I shouldn’t be feeling that way anyway,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton is just one of the many parents who face difficulties getting their children with additional needs admitted to school. Many even have to pay double or triple the fees in hundreds of thousands of dirhams for their children’s education.
This is what the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework aims to address now that it’s in place.
The policy framework, launched on Thursday by the Inclusive Education Taskforce headed by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), aims to transform all Dubai private education providers to be fully inclusive by 2020.
It is in line with the Dubai Disabilities Strategy and part of a larger citywide goal of making Dubai a disability-friendly city by 2020 through the ‘My community … a city for everyone’ initiative.
Shaikh Mansour Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Higher Committee on the Rights of People of Determination, said the launch of the inclusive education policy comes in line with the national policy to empower people of determination.
“Education is a top priority and by creating equal education opportunities for all, we will contribute to the abilities of our young learners and help develop the country in line with future aspirations that aim to make Dubai and UAE a model nation,” Shaikh Mansour said.
Dr Abdullah Al Karam, chairman of the Board of Directors and Director-General of KHDA, said the new framework enables greater access and better provisioning for students who experience special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Dubai.
This means students who experience SEND may enrol in any mainstream private early childhood learning centre, school or university in Dubai without the risk of rejection by 2020.
School premises and facilities will have to be retrofitted to make them accessible to everyone in accordance with the Dubai Universal Accessibility Code.
Dr Al Karam called on educators “who have the power to create this change” to ensure that the development of inclusive education is established as a strategic priority in their educational network.
Fatma Bel Herif, executive director of the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, said the policy was launched after meetings with 537 stakeholders, including parents, children with determination, teachers, child carers, and others.
The policy veers away from the medical model, which treats the “disability” as a disease that needs to be fixed, she said. Instead, the new policy uses the social model where the focus is on how to accommodate the child and making sure his journey to inclusion is barrier-free.
Inclusive education is doable
Representatives from GEMS Wellington Academy, Al Ittihad Private School, American School of Dubai, and Safa Community School demonstrated that inclusive education can be done in Dubai by presenting their journey towards becoming inclusive schools.
During the launch, Sir Christopher Stone, chief education officer of GEMS Education, and Clive Pierrepont, director of Communications at Taaleem, both committed to enforce the policy in their school networks.
“The UAE is moving towards an understanding of inclusion and, certainly, Dubai has created a commitment to ensuring that all schools have to be fully inclusive by 2020 and we’re doing absolutely everything we can to make sure [of it],” Stone said.
What is inclusive education?
Inclusive education is about ensuring access to quality education for all students by effectively meeting their diverse needs in a way that is responsive, accepting, respectful and supportive.
Who is responsible to implement these changes?
Administrators of early childhood learning centres, schools and universities with the guidance of the Inclusive Education Taskforce. Minimum requirement: One support teacher per 200 students and one learning support assistant per 125 students.
When will this be implemented?
The policy is being implemented in phases and the deadline is 2020. For this academic year, the KHDA will focus on awareness and familiarisation with the release of a guide to help schools become inclusive. The KHDA will also include this aspect in its school inspections.
Why make the education sector inclusive?
Because education is the right of every child, regardless of his/her ability. The framework is part of the Dubai Disabilities Strategy and in support of UAE’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) as well as federal and local laws that call for the inclusion of all learners.
Will parents have to bear the cost?
The KHDA said the changes in the system can be done without necessarily incurring costs. “We’re asking schools to make reasonable accommodation for the students,” Fatma Bel Herif, executive director of the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, said.