Integrating students with special needs in education – Part I

hasawiThis article was previously published in another newspaper but in view of specialized readers’ wish to know the strategy of vocational development for the directors of schools to be integrated in mainstream public education schools in detail, I intend to explain this strategy in several articles of which this is the first. Integration is educating students with special needs in mainstream schools and providing them with special education services.

Integrating students with special needs into mainstream schools has become an urgent social necessity because school is an individual’s second environment and plays a great role in forming their characters, tendencies and developing their talents. Therefore, when all those elements reasonably combine, they will qualify and enable students of this category grow healthily into productive citizens instead of overburdening the state. Kuwait has shown special care for integrating students with special needs into public education as it started back in 1943-1944 when blind students were allowed to attend regular Kuttab classes at Al-Mubarakiya school that only taught Quran recitation at the time.

When the religious institute was opened in 1948, blind students attended regular classes with mainstream students and formed the majority of the students as four out of seven were blind students. Kuwait then experimentally integrated students with weak hearing in Mohammed Al-Shayeji primary school for boys in 1993-1994. The most important results of this experiment was that students with weak hearing surpassed their healthy peers and scored higher.

Accordingly, Kuwait is a leading country in terms of caring for people with special needs as law number 49/1996 pertaining caring for the disabled was issued and an independent authority was established under the name of the Supreme Council For Disabled Affairs, and then the name was changed to the Public Authority for Disabled Affairs as per law number 8/2010, which is under direct supervision of the first deputy PM. It is authorized to carry out activities needed to take care of people with special needs, rehabilitate them and integrate them into the society.

Many studies have been made on integrating students with special needs into mainstream schools with each focusing on a specific aspect on educational integration. For example, studies made by Nasser Al-Moussawi and others in 2006 and Lindsay in 2007 probed the process of education through integration in mainstream schools and the obstacles faced on application and assessed the main goal of integration through identifying the following: (a) integration programs followed in integrated schools, (b) the impact of the educational environment on academic achievement, adaptive behavior and self-concept, (c) public and special education staff’s attitudes towards educational integration, (d) attitudes of mainstream students, students with special needs and their parents and (e) the negative side effects resulting thereof.

Results have shown that in terms of the learning environment, equipment and staffs, it is suitable to integrate students with special needs in mainstream schools and make the best use of them. They also showed that the integrated education environment had very positive impacts on both mainstream and students with special needs who both scored higher. In addition, students with special needs started to fit in and feel being accepted without discrimination by schoolmates, teaching staff and parents.

Having students from both categories in the same educational building increased educational and social interaction and provided chances for students to help and assist their peers with special needs, which in turn leads to individuals growing up with great social responsibility towards others. In addition, education based on integrating both categories would increase specialized staff efforts with the educational facility.

By reviewing some countries’ experiences in applying integration in mainstream education, it is clear that societies become more balanced with stronger beliefs in educationbased justice and equality on grounds that education is a right of all citizens without discrimination and not limited to the healthy.

Those countries have achieved different levels of success, and so the most important element needed to make integration work lies in MoE’s need to apply vocational development programs on all public education school directors in order to qualify them to lead schools where students with special needs are integrated. This calls for a further question about vocational development strategies followed over the past three years in Kuwait in accordance to UN specifications adopted to fit the Kuwaiti society. (To be continued) — Translated by Kuwait Times

By Dr Zainab Al-Hasawi

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