New educational partnership in Saudi Arabia to launch six pilot schools

The UO Inclusive Education Project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is on schedule to open a total of six pilot schools in the City of Riyadh, the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia.

The pilot schools are part of a $441,651 joint project between the UO College of Education (COE), Early Childhood CARES and the Office of International Affairs in partnership with Tatweer, a Saudi Arabia Educational Holding Company responsible for educational reform and the development of the country’s Inclusive Education services program.

Currently, children in Saudi Arabia are educated separately by gender. Children with disabilities are educated in special institutions, set apart from the regular public schools.

“The really big step in this project is that Saudi Arabia is investing in Early Intervention services for the first time. All the research indicates that providing services at an early age helps with brain development and skill building. This new Early Intervention pilot project  will open the doors for young children with disabilities and their families to get services in Saudi Arabia,” said Valerie Close, co-director of Early Childhood CARES.

The Tatweer team is particularly concerned with the inclusion of students with special needs in regular classrooms and strategies for equitable quality learning opportunities for all children.

COE will provide a series of technical documents and operational manuals to aid Tatweer in starting up their pilot schools. The UO team will also provide ongoing training and technical assistance, and plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the inclusive education pilot projects over time.

“The key goals of the project are to provide training and technical assistance to Saudi Arabian educators so they can develop their own pilot projects,” explained Dan Close, associate professor in the Family and Human Services program. “The training will take place at the University of Oregon and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The training will include the theory and research in developing and implementing an Inclusive Education services program.”

The UO Inclusive Education Project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia started in October 2013, when UO officials met with Dr. Ali al-Hakami, a UO psychology alum living in Saudi Arabia. Hakami has a child with a disability and has always supported the work done in COE, especially Early Childhood CARES.

In November 2014, Close and his team welcomed 22 Saudi representatives who spent about a week and a half on the UO campus, visiting COE facilities, partner schools, and learning more about the logistical challenges ahead. Interim President Scott Coltrane was among those who welcomed the delegation. The meet and trainning was followed-up with another meeting in December 2014.

Dan and Valerie Close were invited to visit Saudi Arabia this month to finalize details of further training and starting pilot schools. The UO team met with a Saudi delegation in January 2015 of eight women and four men led by Mrs. Alia Al-Bazie and Ms. Sara Al-Assaf from Tatweer.

In the months to come, COE and key graduates of the school’s inclusive education workshop, will train an additional 800 teachers, principals, and specialists throughout Saudi Arabia.

Both the UO and Tatweer teams are currently discussing the locations and timing of the next phase of training, which is tentatively schedule for this fall.

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