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.


Precautions urged even after vaccination

Precautions urged even after vaccination
The number of Saudis and expats who have received the COVID-19 vaccine has reached 780,667. (SPA)
Updated 31 min 5 sec ago

Precautions urged even after vaccination

Precautions urged even after vaccination
  • Health chiefs say COVID-19 vaccine does not undermine immunity

JEDDAH: The Saudi health authorities have reassured the public that any mild symptoms people may experience after receiving the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine is not a sign that their immunity has been affected.

“A person’s immunity is not undermined by taking the vaccine,” said Dr. Fahad Al-Zamil, a Saudi infectious diseases consultant, in a phone interview with Al-Youm TV show on Al Ekhbariya channel.
“What happens to people after taking the vaccination is that they experience some mild symptoms such as a cold, fever, and they assume that the vaccination reduced their immunity,” he explained. “The main goal of vaccinations is to enhance immunity, not reduce it.”
The consultant also stressed even after taking the vaccine people needed to adhere to precautionary measures, such as social distancing and wearing a mask.
Al-Zamil said that the COVID-19 vaccine is similar to other vaccinations, such as that of influenza.
“Vaccines, God willing, are a powerful weapon in protecting lives,” said Health Ministry’s spokesperson Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly describing the vaccine as “highly safe and effective.”
The Ministry of Health on Monday reported 317 new cases, meaning that 377,700 people have now contracted the disease since the beginning of the outbreak. Of these, 2,560 remain active, 492 of them in critical condition.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Kingdom on Monday reported 317 new cases.

• 335 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 368,640 recoveries.

• Saudi Arabia reported six more virus-related deaths on Monday.

According to the ministry, 142 of the newly recorded cases were in the Riyadh region, 72 in the Eastern Province, 45 in the Makkah region and seven in the Madinah region.
In addition, 335 patients had recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 368,640 recoveries.
Saudi Arabia reported six more virus-related deaths on Monday. The death toll now stands at 6,500.
The Kingdom has so far conducted 13,680,202 PCR tests, with 47,125 carried out in the past 24 hours.
Saudi health clinics set up by the ministry as testing hubs or treatment centers have helped hundreds of thousands of people around the Kingdom since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Among those testing hubs are Taakad (make sure) centers and Tetamman (rest assured) clinics.
Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual, while the Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms, such as fever, loss of taste and smell and breathing difficulties.
Appointments to both services can be made through the ministry’s Sehhaty app.
Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their doses of the vaccine, which they registered for through the ministry’s app.
The number of those who received the COVID-19 vaccine stands at 780,667 people so far.


Meet the Saudi volunteers saving lives across the Gulf

Meet the Saudi volunteers saving lives across the Gulf
Barq provides rescue and safety training to all its recruits, including basic first aid, in addition to the several awareness campaigns they provide to the public on a regular basis. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 37 min 7 sec ago

Meet the Saudi volunteers saving lives across the Gulf

Meet the Saudi volunteers saving lives across the Gulf
  • The Barq Rescue Team are the people to call if you are stranded in the outdoors

RIYADH: With camping season in full swing across the Kingdom many Saudi families are taking the opportunity to engage in fun COVID-friendly activities.

Desert camping (or kashtas, as they’re colloquially known), hiking trips, and other outdoorsy activities are taking place all over the country.
However, due to the nature of these activities, the likelihood of accidents tends to increase, especially among first-timers or otherwise inexperienced outdoorsmen.
Fortunately, a group of dedicated volunteers is working tirelessly to ensure the safety of the Kingdom’s budding outdoor enthusiasts, allowing virtually anyone to dabble in those types of activities without fear.
Founded in 2017, the Barq (Arabic for “lightning”) Rescue Team is Saudi Arabia’s first accredited volunteer rescue team. Certified by the Saudi Civil Defense and the Ministry of Interior, the group is a member of both the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the UN’s International Association for Voluntary Efforts.
Barq’s team leader, Talal Abdulghani, told Arab News that the team started off as an unofficial group of four-wheel drive vehicle owners who saw an opportunity to utilize their equipment for the greater good.
“We first had the idea to create the team during the 2017 flooding in Jeddah,” Abdulghani said. “Those of us with suitable cars that were fitted with off-roading equipment found ourselves able to help out, and we decided to make it an official team.”
What started off as a small group of volunteers quickly gained traction. Today, Barq has more than 950 volunteers spread out across the Kingdom, with members assisting stranded drivers all over the Gulf countries. And at least 120 of those members are women.

FASTFACTS

• Founded in 2017, the Barq Rescue Team is Saudi Arabia’s first accredited volunteer rescue team.

• Certified by the Saudi Civil Defense and the Ministry of Interior, the group is a member of both the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the UN’s International Association for Voluntary Efforts.

“Every member of the team joined us out of passion and the desire to help others,” Abdulghani said, “We’re not getting paid, nor do we charge for our services, and all of us have day jobs. We volunteer out of a sense of duty to our country and community.”
Abdulghani told Arab News that one or two deaths tend to occur every month out in the desert, especially in remote locations or due to a lack of experience. Anyone stranded in the desert can call the 24-hour hotline to receive assistance from one of their team members, who will arrive on the site to help if they need to or can offer help over the phone or via WhatsApp.
“Considering the number of calls we get every day, sometimes we find it better to try to assist over the phone instead of heading to a location ourselves,” said Abdulghani. “That way, instead of just showing up and taking over, we give people a chance to learn from their mistakes with our guidance and prevent similar incidents in the future.”
However, Barq’s team is not only comprised of drivers; Abdulghani says that anyone can join up, provided they have something to offer.
“We have members who are doctors and paramedics, who can offer first aid in case we need to rescue someone who is injured, and mechanics who are able to fix cars that have broken down or stalled, or been damaged. We also have photographers, lawyers and so on,” he said.
Abdulghani said an interesting side effect of their work was that many of those rescued have been inspired to join the team themselves.
One of those people is Samaher Al-Qwasmi, who said: “I was taking a trip with my mother and brother to Khaleej Salman beach, and I ended up driving a little too close to the water. Eventually, I found myself stuck because it was so muddy, and I could feel the car sinking down into the mud,” she said.
Not knowing what to do, and with poor phone service, she contacted her uncle, who directed her to call Barq.
“They asked me a lot of questions about how many people we were, what our location was, whether or not we had food, and so on. They were very thorough about making sure we were safe, and that in turn made me feel safer,” she said.

Barq’s team is not only comprised of drivers. Anyone can join up, provided they have something to offer.

The team maintained contact until they were able to send someone to rescue them, sending four cars to help pull her vehicle out of the mud. Their efforts are something Al-Qwasmi appreciates so much more now that she has an idea of exactly how much work a rescue operation entails.
“There are so many people in the same situation at the same time. Just looking at our WhatsApp group now, there are 10 or more cases a day, and some rescues may require a lot of work,” she said.
“I joined because it’s something nice to do for the community. It feels good to give back, to be able to do good but also to help people become more aware of the existence of teams like ours,” she said. “We’re like one family; I don’t think anyone is doing this for the sake of the money or anything like that. Apart from the rescues, we also have events where we get together as a team and just hang out.”
Apart from their rescue operations, Barq also does community service work. Last May, Barq launched a campaign to distribute food and other essential items to quarantine sites across the Makkah region and the Eastern Province, helping residents stuck at home while also helping to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Barq provides rescue and safety training to all its recruits, including basic first aid, in addition to the several awareness campaigns they provide to the public on a regular basis.
Those interested in joining up as volunteers can register on the team’s website, https://barqrescue.org/


Promo released for joint Saudi-Japanese anime ‘The Journey’

Promo released for joint Saudi-Japanese anime ‘The Journey’
‘The Journey’ tells the story of Aws, a potter with a mysterious past who indulged in an epic battle in defense of his city. (SPA)
Updated 02 March 2021

Promo released for joint Saudi-Japanese anime ‘The Journey’

Promo released for joint Saudi-Japanese anime ‘The Journey’
  • A number of famous Arab actors have taken part in the Arabic version of the movie, including Nassar Al-Nassar, Abdo Chahine and Rasha Rizk

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Manga Productions has launched a promotional video for the first joint Saudi-Japanese anime film “The Journey.”
Film buffs will enjoy a unique multi-sensory experience through 4DX technology, which simulates the effects and conditions seen on screen.
The launch of the promotional video comes ahead of the renowned Berlin International Film Festival beginning March 1.
The promotional video will be featured on the social media platforms of Manga Production and Vox Cinemas.
“The Journey,” which is in pre-production, will be available in summer this year in cinemas in the Middle East and North Africa, and will be distributed in Japan by T-Joy Company.
CEO of Manga Productions Dr. Essam Bukhari said the film is directed and produced by a specialized team of Japanese experts and Saudi talents.
“The video will be featured in the region and worldwide to export our Saudi culture and historical stories from the Arabian Peninsula,” he added. “This will be the first of a number of videos that will be produced by Manga Productions and will be featured in cinemas in the Middle East and the world.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Launch comes ahead of Berlin International Film Festival on March 1.

• The promotional video will be featured on the social media platforms of Manga Production and Vox Cinemas.

Inspired by the history of the Arabian Peninsula and the ancient civilizations of the region, “The Journey” tells the story of Aws, a potter with a mysterious past who indulged in an epic battle in defense of his city.
It is a joint production with famous Japanese studio Toei Animation, and is directed by renowned international director Kobun Shizuno, who has directed anime hits including “Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle” and “Detective Conan.”
Manga Productions was keen to recruit well-known Japanese voice actors, such as Hiroshi Kamiya, Takaya Kuroda, Toru Furuya and others.
A number of famous Arab actors have taken part in the Arabic version of the movie, including Nassar Al-Nassar, Abdo Chahine and Rasha Rizk.
Manga Productions is a subsidiary of the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation, and is specialized in producing creative content through animations, video games and comics that target various social groups, both locally and internationally.

 


Who’s Who: Husameddin Al-Madani, CEO of Soudah Development Company

Who’s Who: Husameddin Al-Madani, CEO of Soudah Development Company
Husameddin Al-Madani
Updated 02 March 2021

Who’s Who: Husameddin Al-Madani, CEO of Soudah Development Company

Who’s Who: Husameddin Al-Madani, CEO of Soudah Development Company

Usameddin Al-Madani is CEO of Soudah Development Company (SDC), a closed joint stock company wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia.
With extensive experience in the public and private sectors, Al-Madani has significantly contributed to the development and advancement of the socioeconomic plans laid out in the Saudi Vision 2030.
Al-Madani is also a board member of several real estate projects being carried out under the PIF.
Prior to joining SDC, Al-Madani was a member of the G20 Saudi Secretariat executive leadership team, where he led the strategy development and execution of the international conferences designed to support the G20 Saudi presidency.
In 2015, he was appointed founding director-general of the National Center for Performance Measurement in Saudi Arabia.
He played a crucial role in the establishment and implementation of a performance measurement framework in the Kingdom.
From 2004 to 2011, Al-Madani held various technical and managerial positions at Saudi Aramco. During his tenure with the world’s top oil company, he participated in the development of its performance measurement and management platform and contributed to the restructuring of the company’s research and development strategy as a member of the corporate committee.
Al-Madani obtained a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in petroleum engineering/ unconventional gas resources at Texas A&M University.
He is a recipient of the 2010 Texas A&M Montgomery Prize and the International SPE Young Member Outstanding Service Award. Al-Madani also completed a general management program in strategy, business and leadership with Harvard Business School in 2016.


Saudi Arabia pledges $430m to UN's Yemen response

Saudi Arabia pledges $430m to UN's Yemen response
Updated 01 March 2021

Saudi Arabia pledges $430m to UN's Yemen response

Saudi Arabia pledges $430m to UN's Yemen response
  • Kingdom has provided support and assistance to millions of people in need
  • Saudi Arabia ranks among the top donor countries in providing humanitarian aid

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia on Monday pledged $430 million toward the UN’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief), made the announcement during a virtual pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland.
“Because of its keenness to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, I am pleased to announce that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has pledged $430 million to support the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2021, to be implemented through UN agencies, international organizations, and local and regional NGOs,” Al-Rabeeah told the conference.
He said the Kingdom has provided support and assistance to millions of people in need and shares the goal of reducing the effects of the humanitarian crisis.
He added that Saudi Arabia ranks among the top donor countries in providing humanitarian aid regionally and internationally, particularly in Yemen.
“We are meeting today amidst the ongoing humanitarian crisis Yemen has already been facing, along with all the additional economic, health and political challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created there,” he said.
Al-Rabeeah said the Iran-backed Houthi militia had caused a major escalation of the crisis with a recent offensive in Marib governorate, which was a safe haven for internally displaced persons.
“The Houthi militia has also scaled up their terrorist actions to threaten neighboring countries,” Al-Rabeeah said.
He was referring to the increase in cross border attacks targeting civilian areas in Saudi Arabia.
“This requires a firm and resolute stand from the international community to protect the Yemeni people and to reach sustainable solutions that achieve security, stability and development for Yemen, and ultimately for the region and the world,” Al-Rabeeah said.
A total of $1.7 billion was pledged during the conference, out of $3.85 that the UN had appealed for.