Students at Rawdat Al Mushrif
Dubai - Arabstoday
Most education programmes are geared towards improving the performance of underachievers but experts say gifted pupils often suffer as a result.
While the Emirates has made some progress in setting up programmes for children with disabilities, there is still little on offer for children with exceptional abilities.
Special schools are nonexistent in the UAE and processes like acceleration, which allows talented pupils to skip grades, are not permitted.
The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) said it was working with international universities, such as Vanderbilt University of the United States, to develop strategies that will support the needs of gifted pupils.
The Ministry of Education also expects more than 60 per cent of schools to be equipped to teach pupils with special education needs by 2013.
Educators said that would require concrete regulations and consistent services. Adec is using its New School Model in state schools to address some of the needs of gifted and talented pupils but still faces many challenges.
"These are from identification to providing appropriate academic and social programmes," said an official of the special education division at Adec.
"Additional challenges include parental and personal recognition of giftedness, as well as social and emotional well-being."
He said the council is working on community awareness and professional development for teachers to tackle the problem.
In 2006, the ministry announced a national plan to develop 15 different curriculums, train teachers and develop a scholarship programme, which has not materialised.
In 2009, the ministry developed guidelines for special education for schools, including enrichment programmes and resource rooms to cater for the gifted. However, schools are not obliged to follow the system yet.
Dr Abdulla Al Karam, the director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, said some deficiencies in the education system hold back some children.
"Some private schools offer an advanced curriculum or programme that helps the gifted but many are still lacking them."
He said most schools do not have professionals to identify gifted pupils.
"The existing bylaw does not set provisions for the gifted and does not specify the type of programmes that should be offered to them."
He said the authority has had to turn down requests for acceleration of children to higher grades.
A parent in Dubai faced just such an issue when she requested permission for her gifted son to skip a grade.
"The school recommended that he study in a grade higher because of his ability and we even had evidence and recommendation from third parties that he was ready," said the mother whose son is at an international school.
"But he is being held back by the authorities, not the school."
Dr Al Karam said that even if a child were qualified to skip grades, it would not be allowed unless the laws were revised.
Rob Stokoe, the director of Jumeirah English Speaking School, which provides individualised support for children of various abilities, said people are still unaware of what giftedness means.
"It's not just about academics but other factors like their expression style and other interests that determine their ability."
He said they had some pupils who needed more than their grade-level challenge.
"We have a few pupils who are performing at an exceptional level and need that level of challenge to continue as well."
He said the country should look at developing schools and centres for the gifted such as those found in Europe and the US.
Such new ideas could percolate when Dubai hosts the 12th Asia-Pacific Conference on Giftedness in July, the first time the event is being held in the Middle East.
The five-day gathering will bring together 2,000 participants from the gifted-education sector for exhibitions, workshops and forums and will be hosted by the Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinguished Academic Performance.