KUWAIT, Mar 21: Twenty-eight state primary schools in Kuwait are currently participating in a pilot program to encourage the 'inclusion' of children with disabilities in the educational mainstream.
In an exclusive interview with the Kuwait Times, Dr Iesa Al-Jassem, the Assistant Executive Director of the Center for Child Evaluation & Teaching (CCET) revealed that 28 schools in Mubarak Al-Kabeer governorate have undergone a series of facility checks and exclusive training and workshops for their teachers to provide the proper training and instruction for the inclusion program.
Dr. Al-Jassem is in charge of the project, which is being organized by the CCET under the auspices of Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs (MAIA). "The program started in December 2010," explained the senior academic. "First, we held two-week training programs for the school principals, then head teachers and supervisors. From then onwards we have seen considerable improvements the way schools, teachers and parents treat children with disabilities, even though we only launched the project last December.
The inclusion program instructs all the participating state schools to accept every child, whatever their economic status, condition, gender or nationality. "We dreamed of a public school in Kuwait where education is not only for able-bodied children but for everyone, regardless of their condition," he added.
Jassem noted that the current system was introduced in Kuwait to adhere on the equal education opportunities for all as defined by international law.
Provisions in international law stress the rights to education of individuals regardless of whether they have disabilities or not," he explained. "International law states that disabled people should be included in society and should be given the proper education, care and protection and should be merged with mainstream children and allowed to socialize and play with [able-bodied] children.
In previous centuries, he continued, individuals with disabilities were unfortunately considered socially unwanted. "They were [considered to be] evil, a punishment or a curse from God that should be eliminated," he said sadly "That attitude has changed 100 years later, changing to one of simple isolation, but that isolationary attitude has now reached one of inclusion.
In educational terms, inclusion is the practice of educating children with disabilities alongside their able-bodied peers. Dr. Al-Jassem admitted when the inclusion program was first introduced in Kuwait, some educators and parents were dubious of the potential benefits, raising numerous questions and doubts about the concept.
At first we were flooded with questions and doubts," he said. "They didn't know what to do. They believed we couldn't implement such a program and it wouldn't materialized. Some didn't want to accept the concept because they said it would bring an additional workload and more responsibilities for the teachers. But with the training provided by Alan Hunter, a child specialist, the whole program has been well implemented and well-accepted beyond my expectations.
Al-Jassem conceded, however, that an awareness campaign is still needed targeted at all those concerned, explaining that the program was adopted not only through choice but through legal necessity. According to international law, he explained, "everywhere in the world should adhere to this [inclusion] policy. In addition to this, every street, place, school, hospital building, etcetera, should be accessible not just to the able-bodied but to everybody.
Alan Hunter, a child specialist and educator, was hired by the CCET to help train teachers and educators in Kuwait. Hunter recently conducted a series of seminars and workshops for some local private schools, sharing his thoughts and concepts on the inclusion program. "Our concern is not just people with disabilities but with all pupils, because it's an inclusive school in an inclusive society," Hunter explained.
We don't just care for children with disabilities but for all the children, in the mainstream as well. We are looking to enhance the way education is provided to children; the training should have a positive impact on all children, not just those with disabilities.
Hunter advises educators to adopt the learning style tailored to the children, not for the children to be forced to adopt the style of the teacher. "We want more learning and less teaching. Teaching should start with the learner, that is the reason why we are here; we exist because of the learner," he explained.