The Saudi Arabian education system appears to be radically evolving from the time when the system was first founded. In fact, having been in existence for over 78 years, just the affluent and kids from the elite families enjoyed the Saudi Arabian education system privileges from the onset. Now, Saudi Arabia boasts of various education facilities that have been built with the current completed schools standing at 25,000. The government pays for each student’s education thus making schooling available to every societal tier. Currently, the Saudi Arabian Education Ministry offers adult education, establishes in-service schooling programs for educators, develops and provides curricula as well as maintains the old schools and establishes novel ones (Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia, 2008).
This paper critically examines the history of Saudi Arabian special education. The research paper intends to highlight the progress made in the Saudi Arabian special education system to date. It provides a synopsis of the Saudi Arabian special education program and the laws governing the management of such programs. Finally, it discusses the present status of special schooling services including the education settings and outcomes.
A synopsis of the Saudi Arabian special education program
Before the fiscal 1958, the Saudi Arabian government hardly offered special schooling services to the disabled. According to Al-Ajmi (2006), the disabled learners depended entirely on their parents for any education support they needed. Salloom (1995) claims that in 1958, the technical institutes found in Saudi Arabia started offering education services for people with special needs, but most of them were blind students. The Saudi Arabian Special Education Unit was subsequently set up by the Education Ministry in 1962 to enhance the rehabilitation and schooling services offered to people suffering from psychological setbacks, deafness and those disabled by sightlessness (Afeafe, 2000). Al-Mousa (1999) asserts that the government established three institutions in Alhofouf, Aneaza, and Mecca in the fiscal 1964 to cater for the special needs of those who were suffering from sightlessness. This only followed the first education initiative put in place by the Saudi Education Ministry. However, in 1972 the government founded the first accredited institution to serve the mentally retarded and deaf students.
Laws governing the provision and management of special schooling programs
The need to offer special schooling services to the disabled necessitated the establishment of laws concerning the disabled. Such laws ensured the hiring of education experts, improving the value of services for special schooling, and guaranteeing the privileges of the disabled in Saudi Arabia. Besides, the laws have assisted in the provision and advancement of special schooling programs in Saudi Arabia. The laws are as discussed below:
The laws were instituted in the fiscal 2001 to show the privileges and policies that govern the rights of the disabled Saudi Arabian learners with respect to accessing special schooling programs. Moreover, the regulations highlight the key groups of the disabled apprentices including those with various disabilities, sightlessness, deafness, knowledge disabilities, and mentally incapacitated. Based on the nature of the disability, the government evaluates whether a disabled apprentice is entitled to the individual or joint special schooling program. Through this law, every disabled student is entitled to the transition education and associated services, early intercession programs, individual schooling programs, as well as suitable and gratis special schooling (Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia, 2002).
The disability code
The regulation ensures that the disabled students can access suitable and gratis rehabilitation, educational, shared, mental, and health services offered via communal organizations. Through these agencies, the eligible but disabled individuals in Saudi Arabia can access special schooling services (Alquraini, 2010).
The present status of Saudi Arabian special schooling services
The Saudi Arabian special schooling system is apparently one that must be emulated by other Arab states. The education system caters for all groups of the disabled students across Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that many things must still be done, the present state of this system is remarkable (Al-Mousa, 2010). The disabled students are able to access quality education in an encouraging environment free of charge and without any discrimination.
The education settings and outcomes
The Al-Noor Institute of Riyadh was the first educational facility, which formed the basis of special education. It was opened through the support of Education Ministry in the year 1960. The institute was intended to educate and encourage male sightless learners. Similarly, the foundation of the initial female education institute for the sightless individuals came in the year 1964. It was at this time when Al-Amal foundation that was the earliest deaf institution became introduced to serve, mold and teach the hearing-impaired kids. In 1971, when the number of institutions catering for the blind had risen to five, the Al-Riaih Institute for the psychologically retarded was established. Consequently, the government resolved to improve the special education program in 1974 (Al-Wabli, 1996).
The set up special schooling units were to cater for the education of the psychologically retarded, hearing-impaired, and sightless scholars. In fact, the units ensured that both female and male institutions pursued the set up syllabus, screened the education advancement as well as organized and executed the educational programs. Conversely, the parents acquired information concerning the advantages of having special education from the Department of Special Education. A balanced development of resources and the foundation of new-fangled schools for the disabled in varied geological locations is now evident in Saudi Arabia. Presently, there are sixteen, twenty-eight, and ten schools for the mentally retarded, deaf, and blind students correspondingly. The increase is gradual from the fiscal 1960 when there was just one school for the disabled, then twenty-seven in the year 1987 and fifty-four currently (Al-Mousa, 2010).
In the rehabilitation program, the government involves different ministries in providing special schooling services. The government of the youth welfare proffers re-creational, cultural, and sporting events whereas the Health Ministry offers psychotherapy, psychological, and medicinal services (Auramidis & Norwich, 2002). Generally, the Education ministry manages programs meant for the normal aged students via the growth of necessary technological and social programs. Saudi Arabia has benefited from the quick growth of delivering services towards special education both quantitatively and qualitatively since the mid 90s (Al-Otaibi & Al-Sartawi, 2009).
Thus, institutionalization is hardly the best alternative for offering services to the disabled following the expansion of service delivery. The topical introduction of special education in normal school programs has developed intenerates teachers, consultation, self-contained classrooms, and resource quarters. The schools will rather change but not abolished since they proffer alternative models for service delivery, support and information service centers as well as in-service training centers. These services help various disabled children who cannot attend the ordinary schools owing to the intricacy and harshness of their environments.
In Saudi Arabia, special education has come a long way to assist the disabled students obtain valued schooling in an unrestricted atmosphere. In fact, the history of Saudi Arabian special schooling programs indicates that over the past 50 years, the provision of special schooling services has been significantly developed. The education ministry has worked together with other associations to ensure that modern classrooms are constructed and professionally competent teachers are hired to handle and educate students with special schooling needs. Besides, the government of Saudi Arabia has enacted various special educational and disability laws to ensure that the disabled students enjoy their education privileges.
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