Dialogue Series, Distingushed Lectures, Race & Society, Regional Studies

Maha Al-Hendawi Lectures on Inclusive Education in the Gulf

Maha Al-Hendawi Lectures on Inclusive Education in the Gulf

Maha Al-Hendawi, the inaugural CIRS Qatar University Fellow for 2012-2013 and Assistant ‎Professor of Special Education in the College of Education at Qatar ‎University, delivered a ‎CIRSFocused Discussion on “Policy Borrowing in Education: the Example of Inclusive ‎Education in the Gulf” on February 19, 2013. Al-Hendawi began the lecture by noting that her ‎interest in the topic came from her own experience as a graduate from a US university who ‎returned to Qatar thinking that she would implement some of the policies and procedures she had ‎learnt and experience whilst studying abroad. ‎

Al-Hendawi explained that she was initially enthusiastic about introducing certain US-based ‎policies upon her return to Qatar. However, the reality on the ground proved otherwise, and she ‎began experiencing a fundamental problem with “policy borrowing.” Al-Hendawi’s direct ‎involvement with local schools, as well as with the Supreme Education Council, gave her greater ‎insight into the specific challenges of the local educational environment that policy borrowing ‎might not be able to solve, and that may even lead to a whole set of new and unforeseen ‎challenges. Al-Hendawi noticed that certain policies were not as successful in Qatar as they were ‎in the United States. She is currently working on investigating why these challenges exist and ‎what she could do to help formulate future policy directions. Al-Hendawi said, “I basically chose ‎one of the most important policies in Special Education, if not the most important policy in ‎Special Education, that is, ‘inclusive education,” as a case study, which followed the research ‎path set by renowned scholars in the field. ‎

The general definition of “inclusive education” is when students with disabilities are included ‎within the general education system and given access to a general education curriculum. There ‎are many different approaches to inclusive education worldwide, where some models advise that ‎students with only mild disabilities can be included. UNESCO, however, advocates for “full ‎inclusion” and an open school system where any student with disabilities, no matter the degree, is ‎able to access the general school system. This lack of consensus on what constitutes “inclusive ‎education” presents a number of challenges. For example, the Qatari school system adopted both ‎modified inclusion and full inclusion at different times and with different results. ‎

‎“The main reasons for borrowing policy, or borrowing the policy of inclusive education, are ‎globalization and international pressure,” Al-Hendawi said. It is important to put policy ‎borrowing in its proper context. “Here in the Gulf, when the policy of inclusive education came, ‎it came with education reform,” and a reorganization of the entire school system and curriculum. ‎Al-Hendawi argued that “timing is really important because it actually came post-9/11,” when the ‎West began questioning the Arab educational system in general and became directly involved in ‎its overhaul. This was a highly contentious issue that was debated in local media outlets all over ‎the Gulf.‎

‎“When the policy of inclusion started in the West, it came out of the human rights movements, ‎and it came out of the ideology of social justice, equity, equality, so it was actually a bottom-top ‎type of decision” that grew organically out of public demands. In the Gulf states, however, these ‎policy decisions are being imposed from the top-down. In this regard, even though the policies are ‎commendable and show results in their countries of origin, they have not had enough time to ‎filter through the social structures of Gulf countries.‎

In conclusion, Al-Hendawi warned that policy borrowing is a problem when it is implemented as ‎a “quick fix” to address an immediate issue. This is further exacerbated when policies do not take ‎into account the specific social, cultural, and political environments that may not always be ‎compatible with the implementation and aims of the policy. In short, careful and constructive ‎policy borrowing must be implemented in a way that takes into account local contexts in order ‎for it to become internalized by the adoptive country. ‎

Maha Al-Hendawi received her Ph.D. in Special Education and Disability Leadership from ‎Virginia ‎Commonwealth University. Her research interests include educational policies and ‎reform initiatives in ‎the region; academic interventions for children and youth with special needs ‎and those who are at-risk; and quality ‎preparation and training programs for educators. She has ‎published in the area of special education and has been a guest speaker in various events ‎and ‎activities.‎

In order to enhance local research productivity and build upon its established ‎collegial ‎relationship with Qatar University, CIRS launched an annual fellowship to be ‎awarded ‎to a member of Qatar University’s faculty. Maha Al-Hendawi was selected as the 2012-2013 ‎CIRS QU fellow. The fellowship will support Al-Hendawi in pursuing original research projects, ‎with the aim of publishing ‎research outcomes. ‎ 

Article by Suzi Mirgani, Manager and Editor for CIRS Publications