Disabled children’s parents in Kuwait unhappy with school’s suspension.

The Ministry of Education’s private and qualitative education sector issued a circular on August 23, 2020 suspending studies for disabled students until further notice. The decision, due to the coronavirus pandemic and MoE’s decision to allow remote learning for all other students in public and private schools, will prevent the completion of studies for those yet to finish the 2019/2020 academic year and bans the start of the new school year online.

Many parents of disabled and differently-abled children in Kuwait are outraged and unhappy with the complete suspension of their children’s education. There are 52,641 disabled persons registered with the government, including thousands of school-age children, though not all attend school full-time.

“This is a random decision that came without studies. It has a very negative effect on our children. The ministry didn’t take our opinion nor did they conduct a survey. The director of the school where my daughter studies said the ministry didn’t inform them of any plan for the next academic year. She told me that the school is ready for any decision – whether it is to study at school or e-learning,” Naseema Al-Matrouk, a parent, told Kuwait Times.

Some students that study in programs for disabled or differently-abled children were able to complete the 2019/2020 academic year via remote learning. “My daughter graduated the 2019/2020 academic year in July after studying online. Her school – Dasman – provided an online option for students, but not all parents agreed to e-learning and preferred to wait for the in-class option to complete the school year. These students can’t continue now due to the new decision. Also, my daughter won’t be able to start the new year,” she added.

Continuous learning
The interruption of learning for long periods will have a negative effect on disabled children. “My daughter is a Down syndrome child, and she has to continuously learn, otherwise she will forget what she [previously] learned. When she was studying online, she was keen to perform all instructions of the teacher and never complained. We, as parents of disabled kids, are considering a petition to present to the minister of education,” Matrouk said.

Um Mohammed is also a mother of a disabled child with Down syndrome. “I am very disappointed with this decision, especially since my son is one of the best students in his class and always excels in his studies. He is also a champion in swimming. Unfortunately, his school did not provide e-learning for the last semester although other schools for disabled students did so. Fortunately Al-Tomooh Kuwaiti Sports Club contacted us during this period and provided online activities daily through Zoom including yoga, zumba and lectures and competitions about Kuwait, COVID-19 and others. Over 50 students participated and they enjoyed it very much,” she noted.

Many schools had planned to resume in-classroom learning with the appropriate social distancing and health requirements in place. Schools for differently-abled children are also ready for the new school year. “Hope School informed us earlier this month that the academic year will start this week, and showed parents their preparations, including sanitizing classrooms and having only four students per classroom. The school also took our signatures to let our children study at the school under our responsibility, and we agreed. But suddenly the ministry of education decided to cancel all forms of learning,” Um Mohammed said.

This situation is tough for disabled students. “It’s hard to control my son now. He is shouting most of the time. He misses social life, and is now isolated and sits in his room. This long interruption from school has negatively affected my son and as a disabled child, he may forget all the information he learned, as disabled people need to have the information repeated all the time,” she explained.

Virtual activities
The Kuwait Society of the Parents of the Disabled has been providing virtual activities for disabled children since the beginning of April. “Keeping disabled children at home all the time negatively affects their mental health, and may increase the level of their disability,” warns Mustafa Hasouna, trainer at the society, and head of sports and training at Kuwait Special Olympics.

“I think the ministry’s decision was abrupt and did not take into consideration the opinions and expertise of people in the field. If they are protecting disabled students from getting infected in school, their family members are also in contact will many other people outside the house,” Hasouna argued.

According to him, making disabled students stay at home for months will change their behavior. “With learning and training, a disabled child adapts to the community, but now all these students may relapse and some may even be afraid to go out of the house. They have to be systematically active and continuously learn. For instance, if I changed one part of the training that he is used to without telling him, he will still repeat the old segment. Most of our neighboring countries have set a schedule for the new academic year for the disabled, and here the ministry canceled the year instead,” Hasouna rued.

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