The paper “ Inclusive Education for Children with Intellectual Disability, Hearing and Visual Impairment in Saudi Arabia” is an impressive variant of a research proposal on education. This thesis is about a study that was conducted to investigate how technology is used to help children with hearing impairment, visual impairment, and intellectual disability in selected schools in Saudi Arabia. The thesis is divided into various sections, starting with this introductory chapter. The introduction chapter comprises various sections that are outlined as follows. First is the background to the study section, which provides information about disabilities, specifically hearing impairment, visual impairment and intellectual disability, and how they influence the lives of the affected individuals.
Given that the study is about how technology is used to help children with the aforesaid disabilities to learn, the background to the study also provides details about the challenges that are associated with disabilities and how the challenges can be overcome through the use of technology. The context of the study section provides information about Saudi Arabia, the setting of the study, the historical and current perspective of education in the country, and the state of special education in Saudi Arabia.
The context of the study section also presents information about how technology is used to improve learning outcomes for students in different countries across the world. This section then links to the problem being investigated, which is how technology is used to assist children with the aforementioned disabilities to achieve their learning outcomes. The purpose of the study is also stated, followed by the objectives of the study and the research questions that guided the study. This is followed by information about the significance of the research.
The last section of this chapter outlines the structure of the entire thesis. Background to the studyAccording to article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), “ persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (United Nations, n. d. ). This implies that in regard to education, children with disabilities are children who have long-term mental, physical, sensory or intellectual impairments that act as barriers that may hinder their full and effective involvement in educational activities on an equal basis with other children who do not have disabilities. Depending on how disabilities are measured and defined, estimates of the incidence of children who have disabilities vary to a great extent across and within different countries (UNICEF & World Health Organization (WHO), 2015).
By the year 2004, the World Health Organization estimated that there were approximately 93 million children age 14 years and below living with severe or moderate disabilities (WHO, 2011).
In the year that followed, an estimate by the United Nations Children’ s Fund (UNICEF) suggested that the number of children under the age of 18 who had disabilities was 150 million (UNICEF & WHO, 2015; WHO, 2011). Examples of the common disabilities that children across the world have included blindness, autism, visual loss, cerebral palsy, brain injury, hearing loss, learning, and intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, congenital anomalies, spina bifida, traumatic spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, and speech impairments (UNICEF & WHO, 2015; WHO, 2011). This study focuses on children with three of the aforementioned types of disabilities.
The three disabilities are hearing impairment, visual impairment, and intellectual disability. As mentioned above, children with any type of disability face challenges that hinder them from being fully and effectively involved in educational activities on an equal level with their peers who do not have disabilities. In addition, children with disabilities are more likely to be subjected to social exclusion and discrimination based on their gender, age, language, social status, religion, ethnicity, and many other factors (UNICEF & WHO, 2015).
In some countries, children with disabilities also face challenges such as stigmatization, poorly equipped schools, inappropriate curricular, and teachers who are insufficiently trained (Global Campaign for Education UK, n. d. ). To ensure children with disabilities have better chances of accessing education and attaining the required educational outcomes, such children have to be assisted. One way of helping children with disabilities at home or in school is the use of assistive technology (UNICEF & WHO, 2015). Assistive technology can be defined as a wide range of strategies, tools, and services that a suit a person’ s needs, tasks, abilities, and comprises an assessment of the needs of an individual with a disability or a combination of disabilities, a functional assessment of the person’ s environment, as well as the “ selection, designing, fitting, customization, adaption, application, maintenance, repair, and replacement of assistive technology services, and their coordination with the existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs for inclusive development” (Ahmad, 2015, p.
64). In short, assistive technology entails all the adaptive as well as rehabilitative devices that can be used by individuals with disabilities to help in compensating for the lack of certain abilities (Ahmad, 2015).
The most important concept presented by Ahmad (2015) in regard to assistive technology is that appropriate use of assistive technology goes beyond simply purchasing a given technology and involves an evaluation of an assistive technology user’ s needs, the use environment, and how relevant and fitting the technology is for the targeted user. It is argued that assistive technology is the first step for any further steps to help children with disabilities (UNICEF & WHO, 2015).
This is because assistive technologies are necessary for helping children with disabilities to play with other children, to go to school and get educated, and to become successful citizens who can make contributions to the society (UNICEF & WHO, 2015). In fact, assistive technologies are recognized by many organizations and institutions, including the United Nations CRPD, as an important concept in helping children with disabilities. As such, the various articles of CRPD urge member states to make sure that assistive technologies are available at an affordable cost as a first step in helping children with disabilities (UNICEF & WHO, 2015). Therefore, children with disabilities such as hearing impairment, visual impairment, and intellectual disability need to be assisted so that they can learn like their peers who do not have any of these disabilities.
The type of assistance required for children living with any of these disabilities depends on how the disability affects the individuals. Hеаring imраirmеnt or deafness is defined as the “ reduced function or loss of the normal function of the hearing mechanism” (Inciong, Quijano, Capulong, Gregorio & Gines, 2007, p.
205). Children with hearing impairment are unable to hear and understand human speech well, and this prevents the child from taking part fully in classroom activities such as expression through written language and listening, and from benefiting sufficiently from the instruction that is provided at school (National Council for Special Education, 2014; Power, 1998). Children with hearing impairment require assistance like hearing technology and using teaching practices that promote the participation of the affected child, such as the use of sign language (National Deaf Children’ s Society, 2015). Visual impairment is a term that is commonly used to describe a wide array of types of vision loss (Zimmerman & Zebehazy, 2011).
Thus, visual impairment is related to the terms blindness and low vision. Blindness or total blindness implies that the affected person is unable to perceive light and is, therefore, unable to tell the difference between darkness and light (Zimmerman & Zebehazy, 2011). On the other hand, low vision is a concept that is used to describe the loss of vision, and like visual impairment or blindness, it is vaguely defined as a level of vision that ranges from residual vision to severely impaired (Zimmerman & Zebehazy, 2011).
Low vision implies that after correction, a child or student has some level of vision that is functionally available for learning (Croser, 2015). As regards blindness, in legal terms, a person is said to be blind if when using contact lenses or glasses, he or she can only see at a distance 6 meters or 20 feet or less, those objects that an individual with normal eyesight can see at a distance of 60 meters or 200 feet (Pagliano, 1998).
Overall, children with visual impairment may have a visual disability that is so severe as to significantly impair their ability to see, thus hindering their capacity to perceive materials that are presented visually, such as written words, diagrams and pictures (National Council for Special Education, 2014). As such, children with visual impairment need assistance to help them perceive things like pictures, text, and diagrams. Intellectual disability is defined by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) as a condition that is characterized by “ significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior” (Brue & Wilmshurst, 2016, p.
12). Some of the aspects that characterize intellectual disability include intellectual functioning that is below average, coupled with related limitations in two or more areas of adaptive behavior such as self-care, communication, functional academics, self-direction, social skills, home living, work, leisure, health and safety, and community use (Ashman, 1998). These problems must have arisen during an individual’ s developmental period, that is, before the age of 18 (Ashman, 1998; Brue & Wilmshurst, 2016) The most obvious attribute of children with an intellectual disability is that they experience significant difficulty learning nearly everything that other children learn relatively easily (Westwood, 2009).
This is because children with intellectual disabilities tend to be slow at thinking quickly, reasoning deeply, remembering, planning ahead, and adapting to new situations (Westwood, 2009). Support is required for children with intellectual disabilities to make the learning process more enjoyable, interactive, and engaging for the affected children. This requires the use of assistive technologies like computer-assisted instruction, audio recorders, and self-operated prompting devices (Gargiulo, 2015). Many of the learners who are affected by the disabilities that have been mentioned above are not able to benefit from the general public education systems that exist in most countries (Aldabas, 2015).
Children with any of the aforementioned disabilities (hеаring imраirmеnt, visual impairment and intellectual disability) or other types of disabilities such as autism, spina bifida, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy among others can be said to have special educational needs. As a result of recognising special education needs, the field of special education has been introduced in many countries to take care of the educational needs of children with disabilities (Aldabas, 2015). A child is said to have special educational needs if she or he has a learning difficulty that makes it necessary for special educational provisions to be made for the child (Frederickson & Cline, 2009).
One of the characteristics that define a child who has a learning disability is a scenario whereby the child “ has a disability which either prevents or hinders the child from making use of educational facilities of a kind provided for children of the same age in schools within the area of the local education authority” (Frederickson & Cline, 2009, p.
39). Notably, disabilities such as hеаring imраirmеnts, visual impairments, and intellectual disability do hinder the ability of the affected children to use the educational facilities that are used by other children of comparable ages who do not have any form of disability. As a result of realising the challenges posed by various types of learning difficulties, many countries across the world are making efforts to come up with systems of providing special education services to their children.
As well, different countries across the world make efforts to improve their special education systems each year (Aldabas, 2015). For instance, countries such as Brunei Samoa, Vietnam, and Thailand have various legislations to ensure that children with disabilities not only have access to education but also get the support that they need to achieve their educational goals (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2009). Among the aforementioned countries, Thailand is a good example of the countries that have put in place measures to ensure that children with disabilities get adequate support so that they can achieve the intended goals of education.
In particular, Thailand has, through its Ministerial Regulations that were issued in 2002, laid down conditions that among other things, determine budget allocation for special education and mandate the provision of assistive technology, devices, Braille as well as other appropriate teaching materials that are required for facilitating the education of children with disabilities (UNESCO, 2009). Organizations such as UNESCO have also been at the forefront of advocating that children with disabilities be supported in their education. For instance, UNESCO has called on governments of countries across the world to lay appropriate modes of communication and support learners with disabilities by enabling access to the different types of technology and support that such learners require, such as computers and Braille for children with visual impairment (UNESCO, 2009).
Also, one of the recommendations made by UNESCO in its 2009 report titled “ Towards Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities: A Guideline” is that governments should allocate adequate budgets to cater for the purchase and maintenance of the necessary technologies and assistive devices for children with different types of disabilities (UNESCO, 2009).
As well, UNESCO (2009) advocates that “ teacher training must include a strong component on the most current information internationally including on technology and assistive devices for the success of education” (p. 97). This means that in addition to providing the required technologies and assistive devices to help children with disabilities in learning, governments need to ensure that teachers have adequate knowledge regarding the needs of children with disabilities as regards the different technologies and assistive devices that are used. Despite the efforts made by different to promote education for children with disabilities, and in spite of concepts such as inclusive education being promoted by international organisations such as the UNESCO and UNICEF, many barriers still hinder the full involvement of children with disabilities in education (UNESCO, 2009; UNICEF, 2013).
Inclusive education relates to the meaning of ‘ inclusion in education’ , which means “ the placement of children with disabilities in regular education classrooms with children of the same age who do not have disabilities” (Dash, 2006, p. 21). The underlying premise of inclusive education is that it makes it possible for all children to learn and have a sense of belonging to the mainstream school as well as community life (Dash, 2006).
However, implementing inclusive education has remained a challenge in many countries because of issues such as lack of information and discriminatory attitudes towards people with disabilities at all society levels (UNESCO, 2009). Despite the fact that the United Nations, through the CRPD, defines inclusive education as a human right (Grö nlund, Lim & Larsson, 2010), there are still many challenges in providing inclusive education in many countries across the world. Saudi Arabia is among the nations which have made efforts to develop and improve their special education systems.
In particular, over the years, Saudi Arabia’ s special education system has changed to offer better support for the learning of children with disabilities by ensuring that such children get the same educational experience as those without disabilities (Aldabas, 2015; Alothman, 2014; Pinkton, 2014). This argument is supported by Alnaim (2015), who notes that the Saudi Arabian education system has paid much attention to the area of special education needs, especially in terms of providing assistance to children with learning disabilities.
It is further indicated that Saudi Arabia has given much attention to special education services over the last 15 years. The increased attention is reflected in the growing number of special education services that are provided (Alnahdi, 2014). However, according to Alnahdi (2014), the notable growth in the provision of special education services has not been followed by the creation of the necessary support services that are required to ensure that the special education programs run smoothly.
For instance, lack of equipment such as computers to support the use of assistive technologies in teaching children with disabilities has been identified as one of the limitations to the use of technology in special education institutions in Saudi Arabia (Alfaraj & Kuyini, 2014). As well, Alnahdi (2014) notes that there has not been an adequate provision of a wide array of appropriate educational placements to support special education services. Additionally, Alnahdi (2014) argues that the expansion of special education services in Saudi Arabia has not been assessed with respect to how it is applied, the quality of output, as well as continued development.
Further, Alnahdi (2014) is of the view that “ it remains clear that the quality of these services has not improved significantly and the outcomes associated with these services have not changed” (p. 85). On the basis of the foregoing statements by Alnahdi (2014), the current study was conducted to evaluate how technology is used to help children with disabilities; to assess the challenges that schools face in their efforts to use technology in teaching children with disabilities; and to examine the perceptions that educators have towards using technology to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities.
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