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The Rights of Students with Learning Disabilities

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The Rights of Students with Learning Disabilities in Saudi Universities from the Point of View of Faculty Members

1.0. Introduction

Learning disabilities (LD) may affect the future of learners, their career, and their professional practice. Some of these disabilities may not be easy to detect. However, through parent-teacher partnership it has become easy to identify such problems. At the university level, there are programs that have been established to ensure that the learners with learning disabilities are given special education. Each of them is entitled to free and quality education as a way of ensuring that the future career and professional practice are strongly built through quality university education (Elkins, Kraayenoord, & Jobling, 2003). This is made to make them competitive like their able counterparts in the job market. In addition, the number of learners with learning difficulties in higher education institutes is increasing phenomenally (Bender, 2008; Dinero, 2002). This is more in medical schools where the issue is becoming of great concern. The problem is that many of the learners may begin their undergraduate studies without being diagnosed, which may eventually affect the quality of education they get.

1.1. Statement of the Research Problem

Learning disabilities have become particularly prevalent in higher education institutes in Saudi Arabia. The government has a legal duty to ensure that people with LDs get access to quality and free education. Consequently, this makes them equal in the job market with their counterparts who do not have disabilities. This is in line with the international events that have taken place in different countries to ensure that people with learning disabilities are provided for by their governments. Considering the increasing number of learners with LDs in Saudi Arabia universities, it is important to ensure that they are enjoying the right to quality and free education (Wilson & Graham, 1994; Soud, 2008). Because of the large number, there is a high probability of challenges emerging in implementing the special education programs. This study will be aimed at analysing the rights of learners with learning disabilities in Saudi universities. This will be accomplished by collecting the relevant data from the faculty of special education in King Saud University. Different challenges that are faced in seeing the full implementation of the legal rights of people with LDs will be developed.

1.2. Background

In our daily lives, we interact with people having different learning disabilities (LD). Some of these are in our houses, and others are our close relatives. These learning disabilities normally affect students’ current life and their future. Learning disabilities are observed to differ from one individual to another. Learning disability is not a problem only in Saudi Arabia since some big nations like the U.S. have showed a high record of people with learning disabilities (Finger, 2000; Elkins, Kraayenoord, & Jobling, 2003).

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Learning disability was introduced as a formal category in the Saudi Arabia educational system in 1996. However, the study of the field begun earlier in 1992 when the Special Education Department at King Saud University implemented a teacher training program to offer courses leading to a Bachelor Degree in Learning disabilities (Lerner, 2003). After the first team had graduated, they faced many challenges in their professional practice and career because the field lacked enough established knowledge. The professionals worked hard to make the Ministry of Education aware of learning disability as an important aspect in the educational system of the country. This was in line with the international demands of providing special education to learners with learning disabilities. In 1995, the Learning Disabilities Department was created by the Ministry of Education with the aim of administering, expanding, and creating new LD programs in the school system (Ferri et al. 2004). Policymakers also recognsed LD as a distinct category in the education system and recognised that learners with learning disabilities had to get special education services. Since LD was given special attention in the Saudi Arabia educational system, the term ‘so’ubat al taall’um’ translated to mean learning difficulties was used to make it more visible.

The term ‘learning disability’ is believed to have been coined to refer to individuals of at least average intelligence and with the ability to succeed in school, but who have unexplained difficulties in acquiring basic academic skills in 1962 (Khazaleh & Al-Khateeb, 2011; Eaves, 2001). Since the term was coined, many educational experts have developed an interest in coming up with the characteristics of people with learning disabilities (Elkins, 2001; Dinero, 2002). Professionals in the field have come together and accepted that people with the following problems should not be recognised as learners with learning disabilities: impaired vision, cultural differences, environmental factors, hearing loss, mental retardation, and emotional difficulties. LD is said not to be a single disorder as it includes disabilities in areas related to reading, mathematics, and science.

1.3. Literature Review

1.3.1. Overview of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Although there is contradicting information about the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, reliable data shows that the Kingdom was established in 1932. This was after Ibn Saud conquered a larger part of the Arabian Peninsula. The war is said to have lasted for three decades. The Kingdom located in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula is bordered by Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait to the north with Qatar, the Arabian Gulf Sea, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain bordering it to the east. On the south, it is bordered by Oman and Yemen while on the west it is bordered by the Red Sea. It is the largest kingdom in the region covering over two million square kilometres of land (Elkins, Kraayenoord, & Jobling, 2003; Al-Majalla, 2000). A census carried out in 2004 showed that there were over 22 million people living in the region (Soud, 2008). The capital of the nation is Riyadh.

When it comes to the economy, it is reliant on oil as the main export. Experts claim that the Kingdom is among the first four largest oil reserves in the world. The country has also gotten into other national resources such as minerals, precious metals, and natural gas as a move towards boosting its income (Seligman & Darling, 2007). It is an Islamic kingdom with a theocratic monarchy. The Sharia law is relied on in the government as it applies to all people giving those basic rights such as life, dignity, and education.

1.3.2. Saudi Arabia’s Education System

The education system of Saudi Arabia can be traced from 1902 when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed through the efforts of a young prince called Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud. The position of the country in the global scope was boosted in 1938 after the discovery of oil in the organisation (Elkins, Kraayenoord, & Jobling, 2003). Currently, the Kingdom is ranked as one of the nations with the largest oil reserves in the world. Because of the richness of the Kingdom, the government took a keen interest in other issues facing the people such as education and health care services they get. Illiteracy in the Kingdom was still high in the 1950s as the United Nations reported in 1952 that the illiteracy rate in the nation was between 92 and 95 percent (Ferguson & Lopez, 2002). Later the following year, the Ministry of Education was introduced with the aim of combating illiteracy and expanding modern educational resources. The education in the Kingdom has been revolutionised, and it is currently marked by four main characteristics, including emphasis on Islam, state financial support, separate education for men and women, and a centralised education system. In the 1950s, there were no established special education services for learners with disabilities; thus, they had to join their counterparts without disabilities intheir neighbourhood schools (Gargiulo, 2006). Changes began in 1955 when the Braille system of writing and reading was introduced to help blind people. This was later incorporated in the Ministry of Education, and it was offered to all blind people in the country.

The main change towards special education in the country was observed in 1985 through the introduction of the Special Education Department at King Saud University. There were international events that also forced the Ministry of Education to put in place more programs towards ensuring that learners with learning disabilities had access to special education (Elkins, 2001).

Much of the developments in the education system have seen a move from education only for children of elites and the wealthy people to the education of all people in the country, including the disabled.

1.3.3. Special Education in Saudi Arabia

Statistics show the first disabled people in the country gained access to education services in 1958. Prior to this, parents had a responsibility of providing any assistance to their disabled children. The first people to get access to special education services were the blind who got an education in schools called “scientific institutes”. The Ministry of Education is a key booster to education of learners with learning disabilities in the country. Through the ministry, the government introduced more services through regulations and rights (Bender, 2008; Finger, 2000). The government also worked to educate people with learning disabilities towards training more experts.

The earliest legislations on special education were passed in 1987 when the Legislation of Disability (LD) was passed. The legislation guaranteed disabled learners equal rights with other people in the society. The term learning disability was also well-defined with procedures of diagnosis being drawn (Khazaleh & Al-Khateeb, 2011).

Later in 2000, the Disability Code was passed. This code required people with disabilities to get access to free and quality medical, social, educational, psychological, and rehabilitation services from government agencies (Meyer, 2000).

In 2001, the Regulations of Special Education Programs and Institutes (RSEPI) were introduced. This was aimed at further developing the policy of special education for disabled people in the country. This was developed by representatives from the Ministry of Education and professionals from the Department of Special Education at King Saud University. They modelled U.S. policies on special education programs (Elkins, Kraayenoord, & Jobling, 2003). The regulation outlines the rights and regulations for students with disabilities in the country and requiring special education services. It also defines the tasks of professionals who work with the disabled students. It also addresses the quality of education at the individual level besides the procedures to use in diagnosing people for special education services.

In the education setting, learners with mild and moderate disabilities are separated from their counterparts with severe disabilities. In many cases, the learners with mild and moderate disabilities receive their education in the typical classrooms, but with full support from special education services. On the other hand, 96 percent of learners with severe disabilities receive education in separate institutes (Ferri et al., 2004). In most cases, they are not given the opportunity to interact with their counterparts who are not disabled.

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1.3.4. Learning Disabilities

Learning disability is a construct that is comprised of many assumptions and concepts, which make it a complicated construct. The construct was introduced in 1962 by Samuel Kirk; however, many professionals in the field trace it to the early nineteenth century when the human brain came under intense scientific study. According to Bender (2005), people have always assumed that the brain is the locus of human intellectual activities. In America, the study of mental hygiene was on the forefront from 1930. Samuel Orton is said to have been the key figure in the study of reading disabilities during the 1930s when he was working in a clinic in Iowa where he was helping children with learning problems (Hallahan & Mercer, 2002). Orton contradicted the knowledge that existed in the field by saying that reading disabilities in learners were caused by delay or failure in establishing dominance for language in the left side of the human brain (Bender, 2008).

Much of the research on LD has been previously aimed at coming up with a full definition of the term besides establishing the extent of LD in different countries. Lyon in the 1996 study found that the term lacks an agreed-upon definition (Hallahan & Mercer, 2002; Lerner, 2003). He said that the vague definition of LD was what led to the widely recognised 5 percent prevalence rate of learning disability.

A research carried out in the United States showed that 1 in 6 children encounter a problem in reading within the first three years in school. In Saudi Arabia, it is estimated from a study carried out by Albatal that 45 percent of the learners in public schools have learning disabilities. This number is, however, said to be based on statistical studies that have followed the wrong definition of LD (Elkins, Kraayenoord, & Jobling, 2003). The fact, however, remains that the prevalence of LD in Saudi Arabia is high compared to the American population.

Another research on learning disability was aimed at establishing the effectiveness of parent-teacher partnership in addressing the problem. The research concluded that the educational process and improvement of learners with LD cannot be improved without co-working between the parents and the teachers (Wilson & Graham, 1994). The partnership ensures that problems in the learners are addressed at early stages as reflected in the decision making process.

1.4. Research Objectives

The overall purpose of the study is to establish the right of learners with learning disabilities in Saudi Arabia universities. These results will help to show the advancements that have been made in ensuring that learners with learning disabilities undergo a university training and education that will help them in their future career and professional practice besides making them competitive in the job market like their peers without disabilities (Hallahan & Mercer, 2002). More specifically, I will hope to address the following list of research questions:

  1. What are the measures that ensure that all university learners with learning disabilities get free education?
  2. What is the overall involvement of the Ministry of Education as the body aimed at implementing the right of learners with learning disabilities to get access to quality and free university education?
  3. What are some of the challenges faced in ensuring that LD learners get access to quality and free university education?
  4. What can be done to ensure that LD learners are given more opportunity to quality and free university education access?

Arising from the above research questions, the specific research objectives of the study will be:

  1. To establish the measures in place to ensure that learners with learning disabilities get access to quality and free university education
  2. To establish the role of the Ministry of Education in ensuring that learners with learning disabilities get access to quality and free university education
  3. To find out the challenges the faculty of special education in Saudi Arabia universities face in ensuring free access to quality university education
  4. To find out the changes or improvements that can be made to ensure that the right of learners with learning disabilities to university education is served better

1.5. Research Design

The design of the research will be made in line with the developed research questions and research objectives. The main methods of data collection that wwill be used are questionnaires and interviews. The methods of data collection have been established as crucial in this case because they will involve first hand data and interaction with the participants.

Questionnaires will be used to get data from the staff at the grassroots in the department of special education in King Saud University. The reason why this has been adopted is because of the large number of staff. It is expected that there are close to 150 staff in the department; thus, questionnaires will be used so that time is saved. This will be done during the second week of the study. The participants will be divided into groups of 30 who will be required to fill the data. This will be done during the lunch hour from Monday to Friday to avoid interfering with other activities of the institution. It is expected that the staff will take a maximum of one hour to fill the questions. The data will be recorded separately, so that after the five days are over, progress can be established (Hallahan & Mercer, 2002). This will be crucial in developing credibility of the data. The questions will be open so that the members are given the opportunity to express their views in depth.

Interviews will be carried out in the second week with the interviewees being the leaders of the department of special education in King Saud University. Interviewees will be considered for this population, so that they can provide adequate data on the topic under study. In addition, the number of this population is smaller; thus, interviews will not be much time consuming. Each of the approximately 20 leaders in the department will be interviewed separately. Since many of them have commitments that may make them not take part in the study, arrangements will be made to ensure that at least half of this population is interviewed. It is within the first week that the number of the population that will be interviewed will be established. The interviews are expected to take a maximum of 30 minutes, so that at least four participants are interviewed per day. The interview results will be recorded separately, so that they can be combined in the results analysis. The personal information of the participants will not be got, so that they can be open. This will also help to minimise information that may cause interrelation problems in the department. The results will also be kept safe, so that the participants do not get a clue of what the others said.

Using two different methods of data collection is crucial in establishing the credibility of the data. This is because the two types of data will be compared to establish credibility in the analysis. In addition, biasness will be reduced when two methods of data collection are used.

1.5.1. Limitations of the Study

The research is expected to show some limitations with the major one being that it is limited to only one higher education institute. The reason this has been done is that King Saud University is widely recognised by the government for special education services. The institution is also a role model to all the other public higher education institutes in the nation. Despite the significance of the institution for the study, there is a likelihood of getting same or close data. This is because the parties involved will have almost close features and are exposed to the same environment.

The study is also likely to have problems in the generalisation of the participants. The study is too general since it has considered all the people in the Department of Special Education in King Saud University. This may not be realistic; however, if it works out, wide data will be got. If a specific population was involved in the study, it would be better than more than 150 participants since they are all in the same environment.
1.5.2. Site Description and Population

The research will be carried out in King Saud University. This is one of the oldest universities in the Kingdom widely known for offering quality education. In addition, the first special education program in the country was established in the university in 1985. This was the first program to provide education to special education teachers to offer education to elementary schools in the country. The focus of the government through the Ministry of Education to ensure that learners with learning disabilities get access to free and special education is implemented through the programs in the universities.

The population that will be used for the study will be the staff in the special education program in King Saud University. This will involve the people in office together with those at the grassroots in the same program. The population is expected to provide adequate data since it is directly involved in what the study seeks to answer. The two groups will be treated separately in the study, so that the data from both sides can be used to establish credibility. Credibility of data is crucial in this case since the study may be used by the Ministry of Education and other relevant bodies to develop better ways of providing education to learners with LDs (Hallahan & Mercer, 2002).

1.6. Expected Results

Through the questionnaire and interviews with the target group, it is expected that the data will show some measures that have been put to ensure free and quality university education to learners with disabilities in place. The research is also expected to show involvement of the Ministry of Education in ensuring that people with learning disabilities get access to free and quality education. It is also expected that lack of expertise and financing will be some of the challenges that will arise. The high number of people with disabilities joining universities should also be established as a challenge. In case the latter results are not got, credibility of the data will be the most looked into cause. In this case, where the participants are the implementers of the law and regulations regarding special education services and programs, there is a risk of lacking credibility of the data. However, the research design will be effective to ensure data credibility.

1.7. Timeline

The research is expected to take four weeks. The first week will involve full preparations that will involve formulating questionnaires and interview questions. All the other required materials will also be gathered during the first week. In addition, the first week will involve linking with the participants and getting permissions and dates to collect data within the next two weeks. The next two weeks will involve traveling to King Saud University and interacting with the target group. Data will be collected through questionnaires and interviews for a period of two weeks. The last week will involve analysis of the results. This will be crucial in establishing an empirical framework of the study.

1.8. Significance

Higher education in Saudi Arabia is wholly run by the government; however, as the population is increasing, demand for higher education is also growing. This is expected to create rooms for private investment in higher education in the country. This will be helping the government to do away with some burdens considering that the economy of the country is fluctuating because of the changing oil prices across the world. Therefore, this study is crucial since it would shed some light on the issue of free and quality education to learners with learning disabilities (Hallahan & Mercer, 2002; Meyer, 2000). This will awaken the government to consider the impact of private investors in higher education in solving some of the challenges faced in implementing a free and quality education system to people with LDs.

The study is also relevant since it will provide information to international organisations dealing with human rights. Responsible organs of the United Nations will get information and data that could help in developing better special education services and programs for disabled learners in Saudi Arabia (Lerner, 2003). This will also help the government in planning through the Ministry of Education, so that they can ensure that they comply with the international requirement for quality education to all people with learning disabilities. 

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