The UAE School Inspection Framework defines inclusive education as ‘the process through which schools develop systems, classrooms, programmes and activities so that all students are able to learn, develop and participate together. In an inclusive school, the curriculum, physical surroundings and school community should reflect the views and characteristics of its students. An inclusive school honours diversity and respects all individuals.’
The UAE’s federal education system is the reference for all local education institutions, which develop their own systems that must fall within the guidelines of the federal government. For example, the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework, adopted by the Government of Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, includes the following definition for inclusive education:
‘At its heart, inclusive education is a provision that is committed to educating all students, including students identified as experiencing special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in a common learning environment. In such settings, all students have access to quality instruction, intervention and support, so that they experience success in learning. Inclusive education providers create a culture of collaboration, in a landscape of mutual respect and equality for all. All students are given opportunities to be successful learners, to form positive social relationships with peers, and to become fully participating members of the learning community.’
Special education needs
The term ‘special education’ is related to students with any kind of disability, difficulty, degradation, exception or other factor that may affect a student's learning or performance in education. Under the National Policy for Empowering People with Special Needs, people with special needs or disabilities are referred to as ‘people of determination’. In this regard, the Ministry of Education specifies that the term ‘people of determination’ refers to persons with disabilities.
Law No. 29 of 2006 defines a person with special needs as an individual suffering from a temporary or permanent, full or partial deficiency or infirmity in their physical, sensory, mental, communication, educational or psychological abilities to an extent that limits their ability to perform the ordinary requirements of people without special needs. The official UAE government website states that ‘the term “special educational needs” is used to describe the education needs of any one with a disability, disorder, difficulty, impairment, exceptionality or any other factor that may affect a student’s access to learning and educational performance’. The Ministry of Education identifies all the possible education needs, such as those related to environment (technology and assistive technology), curriculum modifications/considerations and assessment considerations. All of these factors are reflected in the ALMANHAL electronic database so that schools can register children with special education needs and specify both their ability and their needs; their needs and required services are thus recorded and automatically communicated with different stakeholders.
There are three types of school organization typically encountered in response to the needs of vulnerable groups depending on their conditions and needs: separation, integration and inclusion. Article 12 of the Federal Law No. 11 of 1972 states: ‘The State guarantees the holder of special needs equal opportunities in education in all educational institutions, vocational training, adult education and continuing education, whether within regular classes, private classes, with the provision of the curriculum in sign language, Braille, or by any other means as appropriate.’
Separation and integration
Law No. 29 of 2006 mandates education for people with determination within regular or special classes in mainstream schools while calling for the curriculum to be provided in sign language, Braille or any other means as appropriate (Art. 12). The Department of Special Education follows up on all students and regulates registration of students with determination in regular classrooms within the two categories, namely integration and inclusion. With regard to integration, students with determination attend special education classes in four subjects and other subjects and activities with other regular students. In this respect, the General Framework for Education Policies (Art. 4.1.1), in its General Rules for the Provision of Special Education Programs and Services, states that special education programmes include:
- Basic special education classrooms, where students with special needs receive group instruction and support in the majority of their academic subjects as indicated in their individual education plan
- Community-based education programmes outside the regular education settings.
Federal Law No. 29 of 2006 guarantees equal care, rights and opportunities for people of determination in education, health care, training and rehabilitation and aims at providing all services required for them. It also places emphasis on integrating people of determination into public and private schools within the inclusive model. Students with determination attend regular classrooms with their peers, but they are provided with individual or group intensive sessions with a special education teacher as needed. The General Framework for Education Policies (Art. 4.1.1) states that special education programmes also include:
- Inclusion in regular education classrooms with community-based support
- Inclusion in regular education classrooms with classroom-based support
- Inclusion in regular education classrooms with school-based support
- Inclusion in regular education classrooms with resource room support (in not more than half of the academic subjects as indicated in the student’s individual education plan or advanced learning plan).
The Ministry of Education commits to the inclusion of students with determination in regular classrooms from kindergarten by offering an environment that caters for their education needs in all schools. It also offers a number of education options for students within the Emirati school system, namely:
- General stream
- Advanced stream
- Advanced science programme – Elite stream
- Technical general stream
- Technical advanced stream
- Applied stream (vocational)
- Specialized academies (general/advanced).
The Ministry of Education also sets up support centres to follow up on and evaluate the progress of people of determination. These centres provide various services, including individual diagnosis of students with determination, then develop recommendations to help and support parents to deal with the child’s situation and direct them to appropriate support services for their child. The UAE has seven centres for support of special needs education and seven new centres were being equipped with elevators, ramps and toilets for people of determination. Assistive technology is provided for all students with special needs for speech therapy, behavioural modification sessions and Braille sessions. A sign language interpreter is also provided for deaf students. These centres are responsible for receiving, assessing and referring cases of children with determination.
The Constitution of 1971 with amendments through 2004 establishes that ‘Education shall be a primary means of social development. It shall be compulsory in its primary stage and free at all stages within the Union. The law shall prescribe the necessary plans for the propagation and spread of education at various levels and for the eradication of illiteracy’ (Art. 17). It further states that ‘All persons shall be equal before the law. No discrimination shall be practiced between citizens of the Union by reason of race, nationality, religious belief or social position’ (Art. 25).
In addition, Federal Law No. 3 of 2016 concerning children rights, known as Wadeema’s Law, focuses on inclusion at various levels. For example, Article 3 states that the child is protected without any discrimination due to origin, race, home country, faith, social status or disability, while Article 7 of the same law declares that the State shall guarantee the child’s growth, development and care as per the law. Article 31 states that all children have the right to education. The State shall take all appropriate measures to provide equal opportunities for all children according to the applicable laws. Federal Law No. 11 of 1972 concerning compulsory education requires parents or legal guardians to send their children to school. The UAE has neither notified of succession, nor accepted nor ratified the UN Convention Against Discrimination in Education but acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1997.
The General Framework for Education Policies stipulates that basic education is compulsory and free in all public schools (Art. 220.127.116.11) and the UAE National Education Strategy Goals aim to ensure inclusive quality education, including pre-school education. In addition, the strategic objectives outlined in the 2017–21 education strategic plan include ensuring ‘inclusive quality education including pre-school education’ and ‘safe, conducive and challenging learning environments’.
The Emirati school model is the manifestation of school development in the UAE. It summarizes the education reform adopted by the ministry as a comprehensive approach to improving quality, ensuring linkages and harmonizing the components of development in new curricula, professional development of teachers and learning resources. It also encompasses monitoring and evaluation frameworks that help achieve improvement and provide quality and equitable education for all regardless of economic, social, religious and cultural backgrounds.
In November 2006, the UAE signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol of the convention; the country then ratified the convention in 2008. Federal Act No. 29 of 2006, amended in 2009, is the first law in the UAE to protect and promote the rights of people with special needs. Article 12 ensures ‘equal opportunities for persons with disabilities to study in regular or, if necessary, special classes in all mainstream education, vocational rehabilitation, adult education and lifelong learning institutions in which the academic syllabus shall be taught in sign language, in Braille or by any other method, as required’. The same act mandates education authorities to make ‘reasonable accommodation arrangements to enable persons with disabilities to study on an equal footing with others’. It further stipulates: ‘The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research shall take appropriate measures, in collaboration with the bodies concerned, to provide educational diagnosis, academic curricula, teaching aids and techniques and alternative means to improve communication with persons with disabilities; they shall likewise have an obligation to formulate alternative teaching strategies and provide an enabling material environment and other means to ensure full participation by students with disabilities’ (Art. 12).
The Ministry of Education developed an education strategy which aims to ‘install a harmonized assessment on federal level and ensure that students with special needs receive extra and individualized support to integrate them into the educational system’. In 2017, the UAE launched its National Policy for Empowering People of Determination with the aim to establish an inclusive education system and to adapt school curricula. In addition, Article 4.1 of the General Framework for Education Policies is dedicated to students with special needs. It states that the Ministry of Education offers equal opportunity to students with learning difficulties and disabilities from kindergarten to the end of secondary education, in the education institution that is closest to their place of residence. The Ministry of Education also commits to creating a supportive environment that caters for these students’ education needs and abilities. Finally, in line with My Community: A Place for All, an initiative launched by Dubai to accelerate the development of an inclusive education system, and the Dubai Strategy for People with Disabilities, which aimed to make the Dubai community a place for all and a city friendly for people with disabilities by 2020, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai launched the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework. The scope of this policy includes all local education and regulatory authorities, boards of trustees, advisory councils and education service providers in the Emirate of Dubai, and it endeavours to implement inclusive education of high quality.
The School For All project is a major initiative launched by the Ministry of Community Development in 2008 and adopted by the Ministry of Education to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the general education system from the first grade onwards. The project was first applied to the category of persons with visual impairment, who have been fully integrated into public schools. Integration of other categories is under way. The National Project for Including People with Special Needs, launched by the Zayed Higher Organization for People of Determination in 2008 in Abu Dhabi, is another initiative to integrate people of determination into the society at all health, social, education and environmental levels, and to ensure equal opportunities for them in all areas of life.
The UAE acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2004. The ministry’s policy to eliminate gender disparities has focused on learning and on equal opportunities for vulnerable groups. It focuses on providing learning facilities that take into account differences due to sex, disability and children, raising the level of the existing learning facilities, and providing an effective, safe and violence-free learning environment for all.
The General Framework for Education Policies states that the Ministry of Education works on offering programmes to support and care for talented students in ways that help develop their talents and high achievement (Art. 4.2.2.). According to the General Rules for the Provision of Special Education Programs and Services, gifted and talented learners refer to those ‘having outstanding ability, or a great deal of willingness in one or more areas of intelligence, creativity, academic achievement or special talents and abilities such as oratory, poetry, drawing, handicrafts, sports, drama, or leadership capacity’. Services provided to them include enrichment programmes within general education classes or resource rooms (within either a curriculum-based subject or an extracurricular one); or ‘assigning students individual projects and studies, specialized educational tours, attending lectures, debates, educational seminars, participating in educational competitions, providing students with problem-based programs, leadership programs, communication and computer skills, and other such enrichment programs’.
The General Framework for Education Policies highlights the importance of continuing education as an option for those who could not fully access formal education because they have exceeded the maximum age for schooling, as well as for dropouts or those who had to take long breaks and time away from schooling. It lists four types of programming offering continued education for those target groups: literacy programmes, academic streams, vocational streams, and home schooling or self-learning (Art. 18.104.22.168).
The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education work jointly towards the inclusion of students with disabilities studying at care and rehabilitation centres run by the Ministry of Social Affairs into the general education institutions run by the Ministry of Education. Other federal initiatives show cross-group collaboration, such as that between the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Community Development and the departments of community development in local Emirates (as they look after and engage with families of people with determination), as well as partnerships between the Ministry of Education and the private sector school systems across the UAE on ensuring Education for All. There is also collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the special centres which address extreme cases, such as the Autism Centre and Rashid Centre. The National Policy for Empowering People of Determination states that an official is assigned at every government institution responsible for facilitating services provided for people of determination, and an advisory council provides advice for achieving the goals of the national policy.
The roles and duties of the Department of Special Education are clearly defined within Article 58 of Cabinet Law No. 28 of 2016 on the organizational structure of the Ministry of Edcuation. The department is mandated to develop policies, standards and special education programmes for all students who suffer from disabilities and learning difficulties, from early childhood until high school. The law also emphisizes the development of teachers and concerned workers’ capabilities and qualifications as well as continuity of research to improve policies and programmes.
The Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework underlines the importance for all stakeholders across all education sectors within Dubai to develop a shared commitment to inclusive education. All education providers should establish an inclusion support team composed of the principal, support teacher and champions for inclusive education, as well as, ideally, membership from student representation, parental representation, learning support assistant(s) (as appropriate) and other staff as needed, including counsellors, mentors, therapists or classroom teachers.
At the local level, laws by local Emirates confirm everyone’s right to proper education and ensure provision of the facilities needed for it. For example, local entities ensure that municipalities will give completion certificates for newly established schools only if the facility is proven to be special needs friendly.
Specialized committee on the education of persons with disabilities
On the basis of Article 15 of Law No. 14 of 2009, a specialized committee on the education of persons with disabilities was formed. It includes representatives of the institutions concerned, such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Abu Dhabi Education Council and the Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority. Among its main objectives, the committee is required to update the structure of the academic curricula and programmes and to prepare education plans aligned with technological developments and consistent with the physical and psychological development characteristics of persons with disabilities. The committee is to regulate all matters pertaining to the education of persons with disabilities, including programmes, procedures, methods and conditions of enrolment in regular classes and sitting of examinations. It also formulates policies for the training of teaching staff looking after the education needs of persons with disabilities.
National Team For Education 2030
This team includes members representing different stakeholders and partners that worked collaboratively to achieve the objective of SDG 4, which aims ‘to ensure good, equitable and inclusive education and enhance lifelong learning opportunities’. The team is mandated to:
- Coordinate national efforts related to Education 2030 according to UNESCO declaration
- Review all goals and indicators of Education 2030 and develop suggestions to be included in the plans of the Ministry of Education
- Prepare a National Plan for Education 2030, according to the goals and indicators, which is in line with the ministry’s strategic plan
- Propose recommendations for the implementation of Education 2030 initiatives within the framework of the ministry’s plan
- Prepare follow-up reports on Education 2030 activities
- Coordinate Education 2030 issues with UNESCO and its offices, as well as with Arab, regional and international organizations.
Article 23(4) of the Provincial Government of Dubai's Decision No. 2 of 2017 states that schools are expected to establish a suitable environment and programmes to support students with special needs based on the regulations and conditions set by the concerned government entities. In 2018–19, the UAE installed 2,840 latrines in schools, constructed 120 elevators and maintained and established 1,329 ramps across various schools in the country.
Article 13 of Law No. 14 of 2009 stipulates that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research are to take the suitable measures to provide educational diagnosis, academic curricula and assistive devices and technologies. The two ministries ‘shall also provide alternative methods that enhance communication with people with disabilities and develop alternative strategies for learning, providing accessible environment in addition to other necessary techniques that ensure the involvement of disabled students’.
In parallel, the National Policy for Empowering People of Determination aims at ‘adapting the curricula to respond to the needs of people of determination [and] providing additional resources, tools and technologies to support the education of people of determination’. Beyond the federal level, the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework requires all education providers to ensure that curricular adjustments and modifications foster the learning of all students by enhancing the participation and learning of students with special education needs. It also mandates that flexible curricula pathways ‘respond to the diverse cognitive, cultural and linguistic backgrounds of students and are supported by a variety of teaching methods to accommodate a range of learning styles.’
Teaching and learning materials
For quality assurance purposes, a manual has been issued that provides guidelines for learning resource centres. Special books, iPads and computers were provided for all visually impaired students with all necessary programmes to enlarge their textbooks. In addition, the Emirati learning resource centres have developed a sophisticated digital system, called the warraqa system, to facilitate the management of borrowing and loaning resources, enriching the learning experience of students with special education needs and giving them equal access to all resources.
In 2018, Dubai launched a manual with detailed guidelines for schools on how to apply the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework. The manual requires that a team of five members be formed in each school, headed by the school principal, and offers detailed guidelines for how to make the school inclusive and how to apply the framework. The Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework requires the use of appropriate technologies, including ‘assistive technology’, as a tool to support learning and empower students with special education needs at all education levels.
Law No. 29 of 2006 stipulates that ‘The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in cooperation with the concerned authorities shall provide academic disciplines to equip teams working with the people with special needs and their families required knowledge and skills in areas of diagnosis and early detection; besides educational, social, psychological, medical or vocational rehabilitation areas. They are also to ensure the provision of training programs during the service to equip the staff with expertise and knowledge needed’ (Art. 14).
The 2019 National Policy for Empowering People of Determination presents its second goal (2.2) as ‘providing highly qualified teachers and experts in education for people of determination across different learning stages’. The Ministry of Community Development was expected to launch a training programme for Emirati nationals working in the field of disabilities, including teachers and education specialists. Beyond the federal level, the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework requires all education providers to ensure that teachers and all other school workers and programme leaders have access to the appropriate initial, in-service and ongoing training and support necessary to work effectively in common learning environments with students with special education needs. It also ensures the completion of the approved training and development programmes for teachers and links this to teacher licensing processes, teacher standards and teacher appraisal mechanisms.
Several training workshops are organized by the Ministry of Education for teachers and school management staff on how to effectively include students with special needs in their schools. The General Rules for the Provision of Special Education Programs and Services detail the role of the school principal, senior supervisor of special education, special education teachers and subject teachers in the different settings outlined above. For the latter, these include the need to ‘[a]ccept students with special needs and provide them with the full opportunities to learn, cooperate with the special education teacher in providing special education services to the students with special needs, collaborate with parents of students with special needs to strengthen home-school partnership’ and more generally ‘[p]articipate in the meetings, training courses, workshops and activities related to services for students with special needs.’
The responsibilities of the senior supervisor of special education include to ‘[d]evelop and facilitate implementation of training programs to enhance knowledge and skills of the special education instructors.’ In addition, special education teachers have the responsibility to ‘[p]articipate in the meetings, training courses, workshops and special activities aimed at improving the quality and delivery of special education programs and services.’ The section of the General Rules devoted to academic qualifications and professional development mentions that ‘individuals working with people with special needs should engage in ongoing professional development activities which include completing training programs, attending workshops and conferences.’ Furthermore, it is mentioned: ‘Training must be continuous and in accordance with the best international practices in the field of special education services for all staff working with the students with special needs such as directors of educational districts, schools, teachers, subject instructors, special education teachers and instructors, specialists, assistant teachers and bus drivers.’
The UAE provided an annual report in 2013/14 with its vision, mission and values, as well as its strategic plans for partnerships. The report announced the launch of a monitoring/assessment project for schools and the publication of detailed reports on their academic performance. It also introduced a number of other initiatives and projects related to monitoring and reporting. The latest SDG 4 report was submitted by the National Team for Education 2030 in November 2019.
The School Inspection Framework provides detailed guidelines to assess care and support of students with special needs in schools and to ensure inclusive learning environments. These include monitoring the school premises, offering suitable equipment and resources and providing a safe, inclusive environment for students.
The Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework provides valuable information about the standards required in the area of education practice for students with disabilities or other special needs. However, these standards are not indicators. For example, the policy framework identifies these standards:
- Ensure ‘that inclusive education training and development programmes provide key members of staff within education settings the necessary knowledge and understanding in accordance with their professional role with a clear focus upon delivering and developing high quality systems of support for inclusive education in accordance with their mandate’.
- Ensure ‘the completion of the approved training and development programmes for members of the Inclusion Support Team and link this to teacher licensing processes, teacher standards and teacher appraisal mechanisms’.