Massrat Shiakh writes from Oman about the progress towards addressing special educational needs in the Middle East.

Middle Eastern countries have undergone significant transformation and development. Some countries in the region have actively pursued social reforms, aiming to foster inclusivity in both the workforce and society. Educational initiatives and cultural developments have also played crucial roles in shaping the overall progress of the region. In recent years, the Middle East has emerged as a symbol of progress in recognising and addressing the needs of people with special educational needs. This positive trend reflects a collective commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that every individual, regardless of their abilities, receives essential support to thrive in educational settings.

Governments and organisations throughout the region have taken significant strides in recognizing the importance of addressing the diverse needs of learners with special needs. The landscape is evolving, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) standing out in its efforts. In the UAE, the term “People of Determination” is used to refer to people with SEN, showcasing the country’s commitment to reshaping attitudes towards people with disabilities. Laws and initiatives have also been implemented to support People of Determination, focusing on accessibility, education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. This policy aims to integrate People of Determination into society, emphasising their rights, support services, and inclusion across various sectors.

In Saudi Arabia, the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 includes initiatives focused on improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. This encompasses efforts to enhance education and healthcare services for people with special needs. The King Salman Center for Disability Research (KSCDR) is committed to promoting research and development in the field of disabilities, covering a broad spectrum, including SEN. It contributes to understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by those with special needs.

Oman has a Royal Decree that concentrates on the care and rehabilitation of disabled persons, including those with special needs. It outlines provisions for education, vocational training, and social integration.

Across the Gulf countries, there is a growing momentum for initiatives promoting inclusive education. Schools and educational institutions are adopting practices to ensure that children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) enjoy equal access to quality education alongside their peers.

Across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, institutions play vital roles. In Lebanon, the Al-Kafaàt Foundation runs programmes supporting individuals with disabilities, including those with special educational needs. The foundation focuses on education, vocational training, and rehabilitation to empower individuals with special needs. Dedicated efforts are in place to train educators and professionals in specialised techniques for teaching students with SEN. This enhances the capacity of educational institutions to address diverse learning needs effectively.

In Qatar, the Mada-Qatar Assistive Technology Centre focuses on providing assistive technology solutions for individuals with disabilities, including SEN. The centre works on enhancing accessibility and inclusion through technology. In the UAE, the Zayed Higher Organization works to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities, including those with special needs. Their initiatives cover education, rehabilitation, and social integration. Jordan’s Holy Land Institute for the Deaf provides educational and support services for people with hearing impairments, reflecting efforts to address the diverse needs of individuals with disabilities.

These are just a few examples of government institutes contributing to the lives of SEN individuals across the region. However, despite commendable progress, challenges persist, impeding the full realisation of inclusive education and support for SEN individuals in the Middle East, one of that being the stigma and misconceptions surrounding disabilities still linger in our community here. Overcoming societal barriers and promoting acceptance are crucial for fostering inclusive environments. Also, rural and remote areas often lack access to specialised services for SEN individuals. Ensuring equitable distribution of support services and resources across regions is essential in ensuring equal access.

The Middle East has certainly made commendable progress in advancing services and support for individuals with SEN; true inclusivity requires addressing persisting challenges through collaborative efforts, increased investment, and a continued commitment to promoting inclusive education. By fostering a culture of acceptance and support, the region can ensure that people with SEN have equal opportunities to thrive and contribute to society. The journey towards inclusivity is a shared endeavour, and the Middle East is carving a path that others can look to for inspiration and guidance.

Massrat Shiakh
Author: Massrat Shiakh

Massrat Shiakh
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Massrat Shiakh is an Educational Psychologist and founder of Kawakib Learning Solutions, which provides learning solutions in Oman and the GCC region for children with special learning needs.



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