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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Professional learning in Egypt

The past two days, I have been busy facilitating workshops on special education for teachers in Egypt.

This has given me further opportunity to learn myself as I interact with teachers and consider the challenges they face. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the challenges that teachers in Egypt face with supporting students with special education needs are not that different than those we face in Canada. How so?

First, teachers in Egypt are seeing increasing numbers of students with special education needs in their classrooms. This is likely due to a couple of issues but certainly because there is increasing pressure within society to integrate students with special education needs into the "regular" classroom, This is similar to the focus on inclusion that started in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s.

Second, there is greater awareness of the spectrum of needs that students present. Schools in Egypt (and in Canada) used to exclude students with needs such as autism or Down Syndrome (to name just two specific types of conditions). Now, the legal (and moral) expectation is that all students be provided with the opportunity to learn in a setting with their peers.

Third, as a result of the above two reasons, schools are trying to respond to provide educational supports that are effective for all students. This is a massive challenge for teachers who may have grown up in a very different system of education. It is also a challenge when there are limited revenues to support specialized teaching and leadership roles and professional learning for regular classroom teachers.

Thus, providing professional learning opportunities for teachers on topics such as special education is a major need, both in Canada where we continue to struggle with how to best support all students in the regular class, and globally where the expectations of parents, schools, and governments are increasingly expecting inclusion.

Once again, we see a "glocal" issue that reminds us of the interconnectedness of the world. Yes, Canada has made incredible progress in supporting students with special needs. But we have a long way still to go. Schools in Egypt have more recently developed similar expectation. And have a long way to go. We are more similar than we sometimes think.

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