ABU DHABI, 7th October, 2017 (WAM) -- Qudwa 2017 Global Teachers’ Forum, an international symposium that aims to improve the future of education, hosted a panel discussion on day 1 titled ‘Making Schools More Inclusive: Teaching Students With Special Needs’ that examined ways to make mainstream schools more inclusive.
Held in partnership with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, the talk drew the participation of Aggeliki Pappa, Founder of I Love Dyslexia (Greece), Armina Gevorgyan, teacher at Anania Shirakatsy International Lyceum (Armenia), and Yasser Anass Sadek Ahmed, teacher at Al Sadara School (Al Ain, UAE).
Moderated by Tarek Mostafa, Analyst, Early Childhood and Schools, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD, the discussion focused on how students with special needs could be integrated within mainstream classrooms to make them more inclusive. The speakers also explored the challenges that educators are likely to face while providing equal opportunities to diverse groups of learners.
Opening the session, Mostafa noted the findings of OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey, TALIS, 2013, which show that 23 percent of teachers across all sampled countries have reported a high need for professional development in teaching students with special needs. He also highlighted that in such classrooms, teachers tend to spend less time teaching, indicating a critical issue in time management, which in turn negatively impacts the students’ learning experiences.
Offering her perspective, Aggeliki Pappa said, "Among the many challenges we face in the special needs teaching segment, I find that it is most difficult to direct the system to align with my philosophy, which essentially revolves around my love for children with dyslexia. I find it especially hard to break down the wrong beliefs around dyslexia – to convey that these children are not disabled but differently-abled. I also find that parents of students with special needs are often unable to accept that their children are perfect just the way they are. My constant effort has been to help people embrace these differences, to enable society’s growth and the growth of the country.
"On the issue of time management, I feel special needs teachers should first focus on fostering a genuine and compassionate relationship with their students. They also need to establish the ethos in the classroom, making it clear to every student that each of them matters. As teachers, we need to help students develop cognitive and meta-cognitive skills, teaching them how to learn using their own abilities, both within and outside the classroom."
Gevorgyan further noted, "In my view, one the of the challenges in this space is the absence of the right atmosphere in the classroom. Children are not able to communicate with each other. In Armenia, one of the biggest challenges is that children with special needs are bullied by their fully-abled counterparts, making it difficult for them to find the support they need to develop their abilities.
"When it comes to the professional development of teachers in special needs schools, we need to stress the importance of training. I, myself, worked with a team called Bridge of Hope in Armenia, with expertise in working with children with special needs. In addition to this, I had access to a psychologist who helped to find appropriate solutions for student development. Such training and support systems add to the development of teaching skills, which further helps with time management in the classroom."
Highlighting what teachers can do to foster more support for special needs students, Yassed Sadek said, "From experience, it is clear that integration is key for children with special needs. At our school, we ensure that students are assigned to the right classes based on their specific needs, and also so that they have an opportunity to exchange views and grasp different behaviours.
"On the other hand, professional development of teachers in special needs schools can be implemented through workshops on analytics strategy, time management and so on. In Al Ain, we rolled out a co-teacher format in the classroom and parent counselling systems to help manage these students in the best way possible. We also work with gifted students for whom teachers are trained to identify special skills and determine career opportunities based on their abilities."