Pandemic puts spotlight on special needs education in Saudi Arabia

Pandemic puts spotlight on special needs education in Saudi Arabia
According to the Saudi Education Ministry’s numbers in 2019, there are more than 76,000 special needs students in the Kingdom. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 13 February 2021

Pandemic puts spotlight on special needs education in Saudi Arabia

Pandemic puts spotlight on special needs education in Saudi Arabia
  • Distance learning has posed great challenges in KSA but has also brought a rethink in approach

JEDDAH: Almost a year has passed since more than 6 million students in Saudi Arabia were sent home from school at the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The shift to distance learning has been difficult for all children worldwide; however, it posed particular challenges for children with special needs, their families and their teachers.
According to the Saudi Education Ministry’s numbers in 2019, there are more than 76,000 special needs students in the Kingdom. These students are eligible for special education services designed to help them succeed in school. However, those services are not always easily transferred to distance learning or even in-person learning with social distancing.
“While the pandemic has definitely had an impact on everyone, face-to-face learning or direct therapeutic services are very important for special needs and disabled children,” Dr. Faisal Al-Nemary, chief operating officer at the Autism Center of Excellence (ACE), told Arab News.
Despite the challenges, the sudden shift to virtual education had a bright side too, as more parents are involved in their children’s educational process, and they are more aware of their role in helping their children improve their skills, said Al-Nemary, who is an adviser to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development on autism and disability-related issues.
“This is very important,” he said. “In the past, it used to be very difficult to get the family involved in the educational and therapy process. However, due to this urgent situation where children are no longer spending around 20 hours at school per week, parents have no choice but to get involved.
“We should capitalize in these challenging times by keeping the family more involved, because we know that the more the family
is involved, the greater the outcomes are.”
According to a vox pop conducted by Arab News, four out of seven parents with special needs children said that their experience with virtual education was bad and their children’s performance has declined, while two said it was good and one said it was very good.
These children had a range of conditions, including learning difficulties, hearing impairment, intellectual disability and behavioral disorders.
However, five parents said that the experience made them more aware of their child’s abilities and condition, and three agreed that they became more involved in their child’s educational process.
The parents spoke about challenges, including the students’ struggle to understand and do their homework and deal with their devices, as well as their inability to concentrate on lessons.
Um Nurah Al-Mutiri, from Madinah, said her fifth-grade daughter with intellectual disability struggles to understand her teacher. “She is able to understand only when she can read her teacher’s gestures and her mouth movements,” she told Arab News.
Um Nurah does not oppose partial dependence on virtual learning, but she thinks it doesn’t work yet for students like her daughter.

HIGHLIGHTS

• According to a vox pop conducted by Arab News, four out of seven parents with special needs children said that their experience with virtual education was bad and their children’s performance has declined, while two said it was good and one said it was very good. However, five parents said that the experience made them more aware of their child’s abilities and condition, and three agreed that they became more involved in their child’s educational process.

• Special education teachers gave more positive feedback than parents about their experience with virtual education, with seven out of 15 teachers saying that their experience with students was good, two said it was very good, four said it was okay, while two said it was useless. The majority of those who said it was a good experience work with primary school students with hearing impairment and speech disabilities, while the two who said it was useless work with primary school students with intellectual disabilities.

Ahmad Al-Harbu from Qassim, who has a son with a similar condition, agreed that virtual education services are not ready yet for special needs students. He was one of the four parents who said that virtual education was completely ineffective for these students.
“Not all parents like to be involved much,” said Al-Nemary. “These children need attention and sometimes it can be more challenging for parents because they have other responsibilities.”
Al-Nemary believes that it is possible to provide a part of education or rehabilitation services virtually, but that this should not be the only medium of service provision.
“This is simply because these students, compared to typically developing children, need more attention than others, they need someone to talk to them and show them things, support them physically in doing certain activities and develop certain skills,” he said.
Special education teachers gave more positive feedback than parents about their experience with virtual education, with seven out of 15 teachers saying that their experience with students was good, two said it was very good, four said it was okay, while two said it was useless.

We should capitalize in these challenging times by keeping the family more involved, because we know that the more the family is involved, the greater the outcomes are.

Dr. Faisal Al-Nemary, chief operating officer at the Autism Center of Excellence

The majority of those who said it was a good experience work with primary school students with hearing impairment and speech disabilities, while the two who said it was useless work with primary school students with intellectual disabilities.
Munirah Al-Rumaih, a primary school teacher from Qassim, said the pros and cons from virtual education are equal. “Evaluating the results will take time,” she said. “My experience is fairly good so far.”
Al-Rumaih said her classroom was not fully equipped before the pandemic; therefore distant learning allowed her to utilize technology and more exciting content in her teaching, which she had not been able to do before.
“I have a shy student who wasn’t confident interacting in the classroom because of her speech impairment, but with distant learning she gained confidence and is participating in the virtual classroom a lot more,” she said.
She noted that differences between students at school were individual differences, while in distance learning, it is more about differences between families. “I hope teachers take that into account and consider each family’s circumstances.”
Some teachers spoke about the lack of interactive educational content available in Arabic for special needs students, low-income families’ need for support to get their children the right devices, the system’s lack of flexibility and the ministry’s unnecessary requirements.
Al-Nemary said there are two models of education in such challenging times, the completely virtual model and the hybrid approach. In the latter, children attend school once or twice a week, which he thought was more efficient.
In the former, he said, “parents must receive training on how to teach and train their kids in the home environment and develop their skills.”
“Some students might benefit from the virtual model, but I believe the majority of students with disabilities will benefit more from the hybrid model in these challenging times,” he said.
The hybrid model is applied at ACE , and Al-Nemary believes it has proved effective.
“Families come and attend one-hour sessions for 12 weeks and get the chance to learn how to teach their kids certain skills, such as communication, language, play and independence,” he said.
The feedback from families was positive. “We had some success stories from parents who really liked what we did, they saw that it was very enlightening for them compared to when their kids were attending the centre and they weren’t involved,” he said.
He noted that the hybrid model is flexible. “Based on each child’s characteristics and needs, we can determine who should get more out of which,” he said. “For example, some students might need 50 percent virtual and 50 percent face-to-face, other students might need 30 to 70 percent or vice versa.”
Al-Nemary anticipates an increase in educational and therapeutic services via the hybrid model, even after the pandemic is brought under control.
“It is a very effective model because it is cost-effective; we can reach those who live in areas that do not have access to specialists and experts,” he said.


Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done
Updated 15 sec ago

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done

Awareness of the learning disorder has improved in Saudi Arabia but experts say more must be done



MAKKAH: Dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty with reading, is common but for many years there was a widespread lack of awareness about it in Saudi Arabia. As a result people with the condition often did not get the help they needed.
This has changed significantly in recent years thanks to community-awareness campaigns, through which Saudis have learned more about the condition. This is helping with early recognition and intervention but challenges remain.
This month is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion advocates and campaign groups in the Kingdom are stepping up their efforts to educate the community and show how knowledge is key to changing the narrative about people with learning difficulties.
According to specialists and people with dyslexia, media awareness campaigns in the past few years and the decision by Saudi authorities last September to officially classify it as a learning disorder have helped to improve the rights of people with the condition. They also said that modern diagnostic techniques mean that official figures for dyslexia in Saudi Arabia are much more accurate than they once were.
The condition was identified in 1881 by Dr. Rudolf Berlin, a German ophthalmologist in Stuttgart. A pioneer in his field, he was the first to describe it, and give it a name, in his paper Eine Besondere Art der Wortblindheit: Dyslexie (A Special Type of Word Blindness: Dyslexia), which was published in 1887. This formed the basis for all subsequent research, thanks to his systematic description of the condition.
Dr. Muhannad Al-Ali, a neurologist at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, said that dyslexia is a newly prevalent disorder in the Kingdom, meaning that until recently it was not classified as a condition. The amount of research carried out since the 1990s globally remains modest, he added.
Many people with dyslexia are unaware they have condition, he said, since the amount of time we spend on traditional forms of reading has declined. As a result, it can be difficult to accurately diagnose.
“Dyslexics find it difficult to comprehend what they read,” Al-Ali told Arab News. “They can read the first line but get tired and lose focus when reading the next.
“It is possible for a dyslexic to be able to read WhatsApp messages, for example, but unable to read a book or articles.” He further explained that because dyslexia does not have clear, consistent medical criteria associated with it, there is no specific, definitive test to diagnose it.
This can result in years of suffering by patients who later in life finally discover they have dyslexia, Al-Ali added.
“It arises with the child’s upbringing and often has roots in the area of the brain that handles comprehension, reading and cognition, and there are studies showing genetic and hereditary factors, but there is no clear and direct reason as to why a person has dyslexia,” he said.
Recent studies have clarified the significant role of functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain activity in determining the nature of the condition, Al-Ali explained.
This could be promising since cognitive behavioral therapy — in which a therapist provides a model for an appropriate behavioral response to a situation and the patient tries to copy that, receiving feedback on their attempt — has had significant benefits for some people with dyslexia.
Ibtisam Al-Samali, who is dyslexic and works as an engineer, said that community awareness is still at an early stage, but the situation is improving thanks to the good work of campaigners.
But she added that accurate figures for the number of people with dyslexia in Saudi Arabia are not available as the country lacks a unified, accredited body to identify and monitor people with the condition.
Al-Samali said she only learned about dyslexia when she was at university. Describing it as an invisible disability, she praised the efforts of civil society institutions and businesses to make a difference to people with the condition. She highlighted in particular the efforts of STC Pay which, as part of a community partnership, is helping to raise awareness of the condition through messages posted on social media.
“The road ahead is still long, as support is needed to establish the Saudi Dyslexia Society in preparation for setting up specialized schools for future dyslexic students, especially since dyslexics can pass this hereditary disability down to their children,” she told Arab News.
Dr. Yahya Al-Qahtani, an expert in special education and learning difficulties at Sultan bin Abdulaziz Humanitarian City said: “Dyslexia includes stuttering, difficulty and boredom in reading and following numbers and letters, and difficulty in focusing on, listening to and understanding the question. It is a disability that can be overcome through innovative educational strategies and methods.”
He added that although it has been identified widely since the 19th century, the disorder is still not clearly defined and not enough attention has been paid to a number of aspects of it, including medical questions concerning the nerves and behavioral effects.
Al-Qahtani added that Saudi Arabia lags some other nations in identifying people with dyslexia and that diagnosis and evaluation differs between schools, which often rely on older testing methods are not always effective.
A response-to-intervention assessment tool is already in use in some schools in Saudi Arabia and comprises three levels, Al-Qahtani said. The first level includes intensive teaching, to which 80 percent of students respond. The second level employs alternative teaching strategies and methods, which helps 15 percent of students. The third level is the provision of special education services, to which the remaining 5 percent of students respond.
He also highlighted the lack of accurate figures on the number of people with dyslexia in Saudi Arabia. About 400,000 students in the country have learning difficulties, he noted, and dyslexia affects about 40 percent of them.
Mohammad Bahareth, who is dyslexic and the founder of the Saudi-based Dyslexia Initiative, thanked the Human Rights Commission and its president, Awad Al-Awwad, who he credited for the official classification of dyslexia as a learning disorder and obtaining the Ministry of Information’s endorsement of the website www.dyslexia.sa as a source of information for people who want to learn more about the condition.
He also said that Arab News was one of the first newspapers to support the initiative.


Saudi, UK foreign ministers discuss security ties and regional issues

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with his UK counterpart Liz Truss in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with his UK counterpart Liz Truss in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi, UK foreign ministers discuss security ties and regional issues

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with his UK counterpart Liz Truss in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
  • Liz Truss is on a Gulf tour aimed at boosting economic and security ties
  • They discussed Yemen, Iran, and the wider Middle East region 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Wednesday held talks with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, to discuss Yemen, Iran, and the wider Middle East region.
Truss arrived in the Saudi capital earlier in the day as part of a Gulf tour aimed at boosting economic and security ties. The trip followed a free trade agreement the UK began with the Gulf Cooperation Council as part of its deals to develop trade after leaving the European Union.
The two sides discussed the Kingdom’s efforts and initiatives to reach a political solution to the conflict in Yemen in a way that supports development and stability for the Yemeni people, the Saudi foreign ministry said.
They also discussed the most prominent developments regarding the Iranian nuclear deal and the ongoing negotiations in Vienna.

Tehran has been holding up negotiations aimed at reviving a landmark 2015 accord that scales back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief since before Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in as president in August. Iran has stopped honoring some of its commitments and increased its uranium enrichment, which sparked concern from the UN nuclear watchdog agency and the international community.
During the meeting, Prince Faisal and Truss “reviewed the strong and historical Saudi-British relations, and opportunities to strengthen them in all fields,” the foreign ministry said.
They also discussed Saudi-British efforts to lay the foundations for peace, security, and stability in the Middle East and the world. They also exchanged views on several issues of common interest.
“An honor to meet my Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh today to discuss working together on infrastructure in Africa and Asia, security, and an even stronger UK-Saudi trade relationship,” Truss said in a tweet following the meeting.
Saudi Ambassador to UK Prince Khalid bin Bandar also attended the meeting.

 


RCU, Darah sign deal to protect Saudi heritage

RCU, Darah sign deal to protect Saudi heritage
Updated 20 October 2021

RCU, Darah sign deal to protect Saudi heritage

RCU, Darah sign deal to protect Saudi heritage
  • It comes as part of efforts by the RCU to protect heritage material in the Kingdom

ALULA: Important sources of Saudi heritage in AlUla, Taima, and Khyber will be better protected as part of a new deal between the Royal Commission for AlUla and King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives.

It comes as part of efforts by the RCU to protect heritage material in the Kingdom.

The three-year agreement includes the establishment of a center to preserve manuscripts affiliated with the Al-Mamalek Institute, which launched last April as part of the Journey Through Time Masterplan.

The Masterplan is an international center for archaeological research, the preservation of historical sites, the documentation of history and oral heritage, and skills training.

The agreement aligns with the RCU’s objectives to promote the archaeological, tourism, culture, education, arts and environmental sectors by promoting the region’s historical landmarks.

Eng. Amr Al-Madani, CEO of RCU, said that the commission is playing its role in promoting and developing its works through agreements with various sectors, and is increasing its impact in the fields it supervises.

He added that the agreement will focus on historical perspectives, including people, their stories and the heritage of all three locations. The social lives, authenticity and cultures of AlUla, Taima and Khyber will also be represented, and will boost the profile of the trio as tourist destinations.

Al-Madani said that RCU is proud of its role in strengthening and developing the performance of nonprofit institutions, promoting their activities and boosting their impact in the development field for AlUla residents.

Through works, programs and agreements with various sectors, RCU aims to achieve AlUla’s vision and increase sustainable development.

Inspired by the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and its three pillars — “vibrant society, thriving economy and ambitious nation” — RCU’s heritage sector forms a central part of AlUla’s mission.


Saudi Arabia registers 3 COVID-19 deaths, 47 new infections

Saudi Arabia registers 3 COVID-19 deaths, 47 new infections
Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi Arabia registers 3 COVID-19 deaths, 47 new infections

Saudi Arabia registers 3 COVID-19 deaths, 47 new infections
  • The health ministry says 58 patients have recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours
  • Ministry of Justice allows vaccinated lawyers, beneficiaries to enter courts without prior appointment

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia confirmed three new COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,770.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 47 new cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 548,065 people have now contracted the disease. Of the total number of cases, 84 remain in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 14, followed by Jeddah with 10, Makkah and Taif recorded three cases each , and Tabuk confirmed two cases.
The health ministry also announced that 58 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 537,095.


Over 44.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. More than 20.9 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Walid Al-Samaani announced on Wednesday that lawyers and beneficiaries are now able to enter courts without the need for a prior appointment.
The ministry said that the decision coincides with the government's easing of health precautionary measures, but added that anyone entering the judicial headquarters must have received two doses of the vaccine. It also said that the decision will be evaluated within 30 days.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 242 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 4.93 million.


Saudi foreign minister, US envoy discuss Iran nuclear deal

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi foreign minister, US envoy discuss Iran nuclear deal

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in Riyadh on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (SPA)
  • They also spoke about intensifying joint efforts to address Iranian violations of international agreements and treaties

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Wednesday held talks with US envoy to Iran Robert Malley in the capital, Riyadh, on ways to curb Iran’s violations and destabilizing regional activity.
During the meeting, they reviewed bilateral cooperation between the Kingdom and the US on the Iranian nuclear deal and ongoing international negotiations to revive the agreement.
Tehran has stopped honoring some of its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal and has been holding up negotiations aimed at reviving the landmark accord that scales back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, sparking concern from the UN nuclear watchdog agency.
Prince Faisal and Malley also spoke about intensifying joint efforts to address Iranian violations of international agreements and treaties.
The two sides also discussed the importance of strengthening joint action to stop Iranian support for terrorist militias that threaten security and stability in the Middle East and the world.

Earlier on Wednesday, Malley met with Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir.