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Calls to upgrade specialist schools in the UAE

ABU DHABI // Schools for children with learning difficulties are not fit for purpose as they do not have the expertise or resources required, a specialist teacher has said.

Abu Dhabi Education Council schools have introduced resource centres for children with difficulties, but parents have complained that they “lump together” special needs pupils with those with learning difficulties.

“This is a global misconception that children with learning problems are special needs,” said education specialist Moneeb Al Qudah. “Those with learning difficulties need specified training and intervention to overcome it. It is not a disease or a lifelong disability.”

Emirati Alwaleed Aladawi is moving his 14-year-old dyslexic son Amaar to a boarding school in Illinois, United States, because of the lack of facilities.

He describes this as one of the hardest decisions that he has had to make but it must be so his son can have a better future.

“I have no other option. Parents dream of seeing their children succeed or become leaders; my only dream was to see Amaar read,” said Mr Aladawi.

For nine years, Amaar could not read.

“Not a single school had recognised that he had a problem. As his parents, we knew he had a problem but the schools kept blaming us and said that we were just lazy parents,” he said.

Mr Aladawi discovered that his son was dyslexic last year after a diagnosis in the US.

“We didn’t even know what dyslexia meant. When we asked what we should do now, the doctor in LA suggested he go to a school for dyslexics. The only place he found was Taleem,” the father said.

After visiting the Taleem Centre for three months, Amaar started reading both in English and Arabic.

“I can’t describe to you how happy I was.”

However, Amaar needs a special school for dyslexia, which isn’t available in the UAE. “Taleem is a centre and my son needs a school.”

After being rejected by more than a dozen schools, Amaar is at a private school that has a resource centre, which his father said “barely helps”.

The school also labelled his son disabled. “Amaar is not disabled but he is very smart,” Mr Aladawi said.

“I know I am breaking up my family but the closest school for dyslexia I found was in Kuwait and it’s not a boarding school. I want my son to enjoy knowledge and he wants that, too. It’s so hard when your son begs you to help them and you can’t do anything about it.

“I wouldn’t take him abroad if there was a school available in the UAE. Jordan has 250 centres for dyslexia and we have only one. It’s a pity if it shuts down. I see so many families and kids leave with a smile.

“If Taleem was available when my son was in KG1, I might never have been in this situation.”

Shereen Jassem, the founder of Taleem, said that early intervention is crucial for overcoming learning difficulties. Unfortunately, she said, “because of lack of awareness, most of the cases present late”.

Salima bin Toq’s 14-year-old daughter Shamma was referred to Taleem by Adec.

“For years I struggled with my daughter,” said the mother, who added that, as a rule, government schools do not fail students.

“I began getting concerned because my daughter was in Grade 8 and was going to start high school.”

She said she wanted to put her in a private school but her daughter was not accepted despite a report from Taleem.

“After three months in Taleem, her teachers and I see a huge difference in her. She still is weak but it’s a huge difference than before,” said Ms bin Toq.

The Taleem report said that Shamma needs to be given an extra 15 minutes for exams and that questions must be read aloud for her. Since this was implemented, there has been a huge improvement in her daughter’s work, Ms bin Toq said.

“But one teacher made me cry. She called my daughter ‘disabled’ and said that no centre would help her improve. If there is another option for us parents, please tell me what it is,” the mother said of Taleem.

Umm Khalifa, whose 14-year-old daughter has learning difficulties, said that hundreds of parents are lost and the situation will get worse if “our only lifeline is taken away from us”.

Only after a friend recommended Taleem did her daughter’s life change drastically. “When they tested her in Taleem she was at a Grade 1 level. Now she is at her own level and the teachers say that she is a different person,” said Umm Khalifa.

“I had lost all hope and there are so many other parents like me. We are all suffering and told that our children are lazy and we are bad parents. There should be more centres and schools for the hundreds of children with learning difficulties.”

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The National