The UN Sustainable Development Goal number 4 is as follows: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It treats education as a basic human right for all. Further, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol, to which the UAE is a signatory country, guarantees right to education for all people of determination, “with a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity” and that “States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning.” Education is also the second of the six pillars in the UAE’s own National Policy for Empowering People of Determination. The core idea behind all these policy initiatives is to enable people with determination to develop their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential.
The World Health Organization and the World Bank estimate that one billion people experience some form of disability. Of those, it is estimated that 93 to 150 million are children. According to Plan International these children are 10 times less likely to go to school than other children and when they do attend school, it is likely to be in a segregated setting. Historically speaking, children with disabilities have been excluded from the general education system and placed in ‘special schools’. The same issue is manifested in the UAE, where there is an additional lack of these special needs school.
Thus, when it comes to barriers faced by people of determination in the education system, there is a lack of accessibility, both in terms of physically inaccessible school buildings and unsuitable learning materials. These people are also more likely to face discrimination and prejudice which prevents them from accessing education on equal terms to others and makes their families hesitant to send their children with disabilities to “mainstream” schools, thereby leading to exclusion or segregation from mainstream school settings. On a whole, the probability of people of determination receiving inferior quality of education, including in mainstream settings where children with disabilities are “integrated” into the existing non-inclusive system.
The UAE has undertaken multiple initiatives, both on a governmental level and by private organizations to create spaces for inclusive education for children who have disabilities. This paradigm shift is much needed, away from the idea that people with different needs should just be sent to “regular” schools. Instead, what’s also needed is not only the development of resources to support individualized education but accountable management networks that extend from district level to school level, responsible for all the guidance and training related to inclusive education.