Commentary | Need for Special Education Centers in KSA – Mulhim

Published: May 27, 2014

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Editor’s Note:

SUSRIS periodically shares perspectives from columnists in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf. For your consideration here is a recent column by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim who writes regularly for Arab News. In it he shared his personal insights and perspective on the need for schools for special needs children. He identifies the shortage of special education facilities, discusses the plight of those who need those services and calls for the construction of more schools to fill the gap. We thank him for permission to provide his column on this important issue with you here.

People Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Need For Special Education Centers In KSA
Abdulateef Al-Muhim

In the past few years, I heard of some friends and relatives who moved from Saudi Arabia to Dubai for a number of years and some of them commuted every weekend. Yes, they traveled every weekend. The financial cost was very high and the mental and physical stress was even higher. Some of them rented a house for a couple of years at an annual cost of SR200,000 ($53,326) and this is apart from other expenses such as plane tickets, car rentals, electricity bills and basic daily needs.

At the start, I thought these cousins or friends were traveling to or staying in Dubai because they have businesses there or just for rest and relaxation. It turned out that they sacrificed their time, energy and money just because they wanted to stay close to one of their young children who needed special attention and education. So, why not take them to special education schools or centers in Saudi Arabia? What are the special education schools and centers? How about the families who can’t afford taking them abroad?

Special education schools are for young and old children with slightly different needs from the others. It is simply an education for students with special needs. And each individual has a special need of a different type. Some of them have difficulty in communication, learning disabilities, physical disabilities and development disabilities. These children behave differently because of these disorders. If these kids are not diagnosed early and are not put in special education programs, they suffer all their life due to the impact of those disabilities. As they grow, they will know they are different.

Ironically, Saudi Arabia was known to be the leading country in special education centers in the area. Decades ago, many schools for the blind were established. Blindness and poor vision are one of the most recognized disabilities among children. As a matter of fact, the first known special education school was for the blind. France and England built those schools more than 200 years ago. Saudi Arabia gave these special schools for the blind the name “Maahad Alnour,” which means institute of the lights.

As time passed, science was able to identify more disabilities. Countries around the world started to identify the problem at a very early age among children. And we have seen schools being built in Saudi Arabia for the children who need special education but they are not as advanced or there are not enough of them. These schools need highly trained staff because they will be dealing with different categories of individuals. But the most important thing is to diagnose the problem as early as possible.

Saudi Arabia is a very large country with big population compared to other countries in the area with a very high percentage of young children. Many of these children suffer from some sort of disability and some of these children attend regular schools and it is easy for other kids to pass comments on their handicap. This keeps this child isolated because he doesn’t know how to keep up with the other healthy children and many of them quit school and stay at home.

Also, we have to bear in mind there are many expatriate families in the Kingdom and some of them have one child with a disability and they need to put their children at special schools because they will not be able to transfer them to another country. We have also heard about some very experienced foreign individuals who would like to come to work in the Kingdom but because they have a child who needs to attend special school, they would not go ahead with their plans because schools in the Kingdom would not accommodate them. We have heard about many Saudi families who bring highly trained nurses to take care and teach their children with special needs.

Building special education schools in the Kingdom can yield high return on investment if looked at from a business point of view but it is also good opportunity for many philanthropists. Children with special needs are humans who have feelings and they are very vulnerable in their environment. We should treat them with extreme care.

Science had proven that these children can at the end of the day become normal and be part of the society. Saudi Arabia has the highest budget per capita allocated for education in the world so it should not be a difficult task to establish more special education schools. We can utilize and learn from more experienced institutes such as the ones in the United States or Europe. And the earlier we diagnose the symptoms the easier we can help the child.


— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a Commodore (Retired), Royal Saudi Navy. He is a frequent contributor to SUSRIS. He can be contacted at:

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally published in Arab News on May 19, 2014.


Read more by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim:

More columns – prior to Jan 2014 [Link Here]

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