Strategy& outlines approach for GCC to enable students with disabilities

30 November 2018 3 min. read

The GCC states will need to overhaul their education systems for students with disabilities if they are to live to their full potential says a new report from Strategy&.

The good news first, according to consultancy Strategy&: the nations of the GCC share a commitment to the well-being of their young citizens with disabilities and recognise the need to improve educational and social outcomes, as evidenced at least by a range of policies in development. These include a national strategy for people with disabilities in Bahrain, and the national transformation programme’s special education initiatives in Saudi Arabia.

Beyond the individual, the benefits to society and the economy are significant. As the report states, “By improving education and better integrating these students into the workforce, the government’s long-term burden is reduced. A proper approach to special education means that these individuals are more likely to become capable of earning a living, paying their way, and contributing their talents to society, instead of the government shouldering the costs of healthcare and social care over their lifetime.”

However, Strategy& contends that there remains certain attitudes and obstacles that cause an underestimation of the true scale of need, with the genuine number of students with disabilities masked by issues such as poor awareness and assessment among parents and educators, unclear diagnostic standards to detect and classify disabilities, and a surrounding social reluctance to acknowledge disability in the first place.A learner-centric approach to educationIn the event that there is a diagnosis of disability, further systemic issues persist as to local education and support services, including insufficient planning and coordination among public and private sector entities and a wider lack of qualified special education expertise across the spectrum of disability. Ultimately, without professional development training in the latest of pedagogical approaches, teachers frequently underestimate the potential of students with disabilities.

With the GCC states eager to address the overlying situation, in so that young nationals with disabilities can contribute to society and live their lives to the fullest, Strategy& in its report recommends local governments revamp their special education systems for a contemporary learner-centric model. This approach would consist of four key elements; individualised intervention, a learning ecosystem and a support ecosystem, and assistive technologies.

In respect to individualised intervention, GCC governments will first need to promote greater awareness in parents and educators, so that individualied education plans (IEPs) can be formulated at the earliest stage of development after a diagnosis of disability has been made. Then, efforts should be made to build a fully or partially inclusive education ecosystem for students with disabilities to aid with socialisation, educating mainstream students in the process.

As to the supportive ecosystem, this includes educational institutes offering basic support resources while partnering with external specialist service providers for more complex needs – with, critically, the support network extending to parents and caregivers beyond the school setting. Meanwhile, says Strategy&, governments and educators should seek to leverage quickly advancing assistive technologies, for example with apps that translate speech to sign-language.

“By adopting a learner-centric approach, governments will fulfill an obligation to care for all their citizens and bring quality of life, economic, and societal benefits to students with disabilities and their families,” the authors of the report conclude. “By being engaged in their education and then the workplace, these individuals will be more independent with a greater sense of purpose, which makes them financially and mentally healthier.”