The educational sphere in Saudi Arabia faces many challenges, one of which is the development and successful application of the policies for special education. In agreement with the guidelines of the United Nations Organization, Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have gained significant progress in the sphere of educational services for students with special needs (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2019). However, the results in the implementation of inclusive education have shown quantitative achievements rather than qualitative (Alrashidi & Phan, 2015; Hadidi & Al-Khateeb, 2015). The study aims at comparing the policies used in special education in the kingdom to adopt and develop the best international programs. The analyzed information retrieved from the available studies has demonstrated a significant gap in the comparative research that would provide practical implications for the adoption of foreign educational policies. Therefore, the study attempts to answer the following research questions:
- What are the similarities and differences between educational policies in special education between Saudi Arabia and international policies?
- What are the ways of developing educational policies in special education in the Kingdom based on comparison?
To objectives of the current study include collecting information from credible recently published resources on the situation in special education in Saudi Arabia, finding evidence of successfully applied educational policies in such countries as the USA, Britain, Australia, Ireland, and Jordan, and comparing the two sets of data. Also, another objective of the study is to conduct questionnaires with beneficiaries and employees and interviews with decision-makers, the results of which will be used to develop special education policies in Saudi Arabia.
The implementation of special education services for both people with disabilities and gifted students requires renovation of laws that would enable the employment of qualified staff, developing appropriate programs, and provision of high-quality services for the individuals with special needs (Aldabas, 2015). The regulations of special education policies in Saudi Arabia include Rules and Regulations of Special Education Programs and the Disability Law which identify the rights of people with disabilities to be a part of public life, including public education (Aldabas, 2015). The current policies in the Kingdom differentiate between the groups of people depending on the type of their disability to prioritize their specific needs in the learning process at appropriate facilities (Alnemary, Aldhalaan, Simon-Cereijido, & Alnemary, 2016; Al-Zoubi & Rahman, 2016).
Also, special programs for gifted and talented students are initiated by the responsible department of the Ministry of Education (Battal, 2016; Faisal & Ghani, 2015b). Although, their number is insufficient, and the majority of gifted students are included in public schools with no special attention paid to their skills (Alamer, 2014; Parr & Stevens, 2019). There exist many research studies and theoretical justifications of techniques and methodologies which apply to gifted students’ education and aim at the development of the professional framework for the appropriate response to the requirements of this particular group of individuals (Aichouni et al., 2015; Faisal & Ghani, 2015a; Kim, 2016). Another challenge is that the current educational system of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia views the needs of people with disabilities and gifted students within separate domains, thus omitting the requirements of twice-exceptional individuals (Mohammed, 2018). One of the reasons for such insufficient advancement in the sphere of special education in the analyzed country is the lack of tools and trained staff capable of providing necessary services.
The lack of specially trained experts and tools for the implementation of the governmental ideas impose limited effectiveness of the policies’ implementation, which results in disproportionate delivery of educational services to the students with special needs (Abed & Alrawajfh, 2017; Alharb & Madhesh, 2018; Murry & Alqahtani, 2015). Special education teachers’ understaffing due to attrition and turnover cause significant difficulties for the implementation of policies in practice (Alqahtani, 2018). Therefore, it is required to review the policies and compare them with the existing successful foreign programs enabling the creation of a favorable educational environment for students with special needs.
In Jordan, special programs for gifted students have shown valuable results in the advances in students’ academic achievement (Ziadat & Al-Ziyadat, 2016). As for the USA, their system of identification of students with special needs is based on the response to an intervention program that has demonstrated good results in recognizing this population’s educational needs (Bjorn, Aro, Koponen, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2015). Also, according to Li (2015), the US higher education for special education teachers is provided with substantial theoretical and practical courses that provide the necessary training for the professionals in this sphere. As Anderson and Boyle (2015) state, in Australia, there are “eight educational jurisdictions … that have developed policies and increased funding levels” to implement inclusive education for all populations (p. 5).
The Irish educational policies exercise early diagnostic programs for the identification of children’s educational needs in the first years of childhood, which enhances the efficacy of inclusive education in the country (Rose, Shevlin, Twomey, & Zhao, 2017). Since Britain is one of the countries that adhere to the education for all policy, its special education programs are implemented under the guidance of the priority of full development of people’s potential (Roleska et al., 2018). Such an extensive number of practical applications of international policies might be used to better organize the developmental strategies in the special education system of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is important to attract policymakers and school practitioners to develop policies (Graham, 2015).
The method of comparative analysis will be applied to deliver the similarities and differences between Saudi and international special education policies.
For the second part of the study, which refers to the ways of policy development, the representatives of the biggest educational institutions, some parents of the students with special needs, as well as the officials responsible for educational programs in Saudi Arabia will be used as the target population of the research.
The researcher will utilize questionnaires for beneficiaries and employees (teachers and parents) and interviews with policymakers to identify the perspectives for policy implementation.
The first stage of research will embrace extensive literature analysis and collection of data concerning the special education policies that are used in Saudi Arabia and in such countries as the USA, Australia, Britain, Jordan, and Ireland. The identified policies will be compared with the following detection of similarities and differences. The prospective policies capable of improving the special education system in the Kingdom will be retrieved. At the second stage of the study, the practical development of these policies will be articulated with beneficiaries, employees, and policymakers.
The anticipated limitations might be associated with the bias of subjective opinions provided by employees and parents. Also, the limited amount of data available for the analysis of international policies might diminish the general analysis results.
The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has determined its course on education for all, according to which every individual in the country regardless of his or her abilities or status is guaranteed equality of access to educational services. Due to the ineffective practical utilization of the policies caused by understaffing and inappropriate diagnostic systems, it is relevant to adopt international experience to Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the policies will be compared, the best ones singled out and articulated for further development.
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