All Dubai private schools must cater for special needs children by 2020

New measures seen as a reflection of regulator's push for diversity

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 24 JANUARY 2019. Richard Drew, Headmaster at Jumeira Baccalaureate School. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Anam Rizvi. Section: National.
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All private schools in Dubai must be able to cater for special needs children by 2020, according to new guidelines.

Officials from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority said the move was an ambitious but entirely justified target.

Experts hope the decision will ensure access to education for the disabled across the emirate will be substantially improved.

Parents also welcomed the initiative, saying the drive for inclusivity could lead to a drop in fees they pay for learning assistants to look after their child while in school.

“This will have a major impact on education,” said Michelle Choytooa, who takes care of special needs children at Victory Heights Primary School.

“I am hoping that the costs [of care] will go down if this is implemented, though it will take time. It's not realistic to say all the costs will disappear.”

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KHDA, Dubai’s education regulator, announced the new scheme on Wednesday last week.

The authority said the move would only apply to fee-paying schools, with government schools not bound by the guidelines.

Under the scheme, every school teacher will be required to be trained to deal with pupils of determination.

Appropriate infrastructure such as wheelchair ramps and other access-friendly facilities will also be installed where not already available.

Currently, schools in Dubai assess special needs children on an individual basis to determine whether or not they are able to cater for their specific needs.

Parents often have to pay additional fees to the school to allow for learning assistants to accompany the child throughout the day.

By 2020, however, KHDA officials said they aimed to put a stop to the practice of schools profiting excessively from this extra support.

The new guidelines state that where additional fees are required, schools can only pass on the at cost charge, and no more. A learning support assistant can typically cost as much as Dh300 per day.

Richard Drew, principal at Jumeira Baccalaureate School, said his school was working to cut costs for parents of disabled children.

“Schools may expect parents to a pay for learning support assistants and the child may also require therapy,” he said.

“These are often provided by private establishments and are not cheap. If they [schools] are offering an inclusive education in the right way, they can reduce the costs for parents.”

Sonia Kohli, assistant headmistress at Indian High School, that does not charge parents for learning assistants, said some parents could object to it from a cost perspective.

“Parents are not open to this additional cost as it can be challenging,” she said. “They don’t want to accept that their children need help.”

Louise Dawson, head of inclusion at Kings' School Al Barsha, said the new guidelines were both right and necessary.

She agreed the change could help reduce costs for parents, but highlighted how her school already took steps to ensure additional fees were kept low.

Of the 120 children with special needs at the school, only 20 pay additional costs, she said.

"Kings' has a scale for charging additional fees which is incredibly reasonable,” she said.

“There are some children who can’t be left alone due to their needs. We have worked on the costs and reduced the costs significantly.”

Fatma Belrehif, a spokeswoman for KHDA, said the new guidelines proved the regulator’s continued commitment to ensuring all children could access quality education.

“The launch of this new guide for schools is a reflection of our commitment to enable schools to create a welcoming environment for everyone,” she said.

“This will only be possible when the entire school community values diversity and believes in creating engaging, relevant and meaningful experiences for students of determination.”