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The gap in specialized learning

Experts from the sector say there is a lack of training for teachers of special education

Private School
(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Special education can include students from many categories, including those with learning difficulties and Autism. However, Jordanian schools and staff are currently ill-prepared to provide the necessary care for special education students, say experts in the sector.اضافة اعلان

“Regardless of their condition, many of these students are gifted and creative,” Karam Siam, a PHD holder in special education, said in an interview with Jordan News.  “Students with learning difficulties may possess intelligence like the rest of their peers, but have academic problems, and some are affected by the behavioral aspect and suffer from ADD or ADHD.” 

Learning difficulties have also been termed as hidden disabilities. The student here may be at the same level in terms of academic achievement and behavior as the rest of his or her classmates, however, the disability may be revealed itself at a later age due to the student’s high mental abilities, according to Siam.

“Our problem in Jordan is that despite awareness of learning difficulties, there are very few teachers who are aware of how to deal with this group of students in the classroom during the integration process,” Siam said. “As an educational specialist, I have made it my mission to raise awareness, and to train teachers on the strategies of dealing with a special needs student.”

“I put my son in a private school with the aim to receive care and supervision from his teachers, nevertheless, they are not trained well for such a task,” said a mother named Ahmad, who suffers from a learning difficulty. 

Creating strategies for special education

Siam has written a book on learning disabilities, and used it as a guideline to train teachers through workshops. 

“I offer strategies for all cases. Students who have problems with speech, comprehension, or behavioral problems, will be transferred to an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, and an educational specialist,” Siam said. 

Julia Haddad, a retiree from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and specialist for students with Autism told Jordan News that she has worked with multiple centers in the field of special education in the past and noticed the lack of service and programs specialized for students suffering from learning challenges. 

“As a volunteer in these centers I faced many challenges with their ill prepared programs, and remained to assist the students individually under my own terms,” Haddad said. 

Siam said that anyone who deals with students with learning difficulties must have the full conviction that this category of students has the right to learn like any other. The teacher must have the patience, the will, and the confidence that they will change the situation of the student, and should create in the student the incentive to improve academically and behaviorally, she added.

“Many of the autistic students that I have encountered have faced frustration in classroom settings and have had temper tantrums due to the inconvenience of the environment, explained Haddad.

“Students with learning disabilities who feel discriminated against by the rest of their peers often face bullying, and as their shadow teacher, they feel most comfortable when I am near them for assistance.”   

 “I was worried that Ahmad wasn’t able to read or write like the rest of his classmates, and that he has a short memory span.

I was able to reach out to a special needs private teacher, and with perseverance, patience, and hard work, my son’s academic skills have improved drastically,” said Ahmad’s mother. 

“I noticed my son’s disability at a young age and asked his school to allow him to repeat the first grade, however, my request was denied both by the Ministry of Education and the school, and he was treated like the rest of his classmates,” she added. 


The importance of diagnosis

Some other common disabilities that Siam helped students face were Dyslexia, where students suffer from problems in reading and writing, and a decrease in optical sensitivity, where a student is affected due to the length of the light waves on white printed material.

 “I used to face difficulties with parents’ denial regarding their children’s condition, and found it challenging to diagnose the student. However, I now receive cases from the parents themselves when the student is at an early age,” she said. 

According to Haddad, a common pattern occurs among schools and parents of students with learning disabilities, where both are in denial of the student’s condition, who are then categorized as ill-mannered and unmotivated academically, rather than being professionally examined and diagnosed. 

At the beginning of Siam’s career, centers for students with learning difficulties were not yet founded. Many families were also financially incapable of placing their children in the learning difficulties section in schools, which inspired her to found her own center in 2002. 

“At the time there was much ignorance and schools were neither prepared nor aware of students with such difficulties, and considered these cases as mental illnesses. As of today, there is considerable change, and both schools and families are more aware of their children's’ cases,” she added. 

Furthermore, Tawjihi students (general secondary education certificate examination) who have learning difficulties are not granted special academic care and services by the Ministry of Education, according to Siam.  

In an interview with Jordan News, Sami Mahases, Director of the department of the Ministry of Education said: “The ministry has provided a total of 1,035 learning resource rooms for students with learning disabilities.” 

“Schools provided with these rooms are dedicated for students from the first grade to the sixth grade. The class teacher is responsible for determining the levels of learning for each student, and they are categorized accordingly,” he added. 

According to Mahases, the number of students in the resource rooms is no more than 5 to 10 children. The aim of these rooms is to make an environment suitable for this category of students.

“We focus on making the teachers' specialization in these learning rooms Arabic and mathematics, which are the basis for student education,” he said. 

“This remains to be a work in progress and the Ministry of Education is aiming to train special needs teachers about the diagnostic mechanism in the learning resource rooms, and we hope to create more of these rooms in the near future,” added Mahases. “There still remains to be a lack of preparation on the part of special needs teachers, and we aim to provide them with the needed training.” 

The ministry is working on a program which initially goes by “Psychosocial Support”, and before placing the focal point on the academic aspect, it aims to prepare students with learning disabilities psychologically through this program. 


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