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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Primary Education (Egypt)

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Primary Education (Egypt)
by Heba Kotb

Heba Kotb is an assistant professor in the Psychology Department at the American University, Cairo, Egypt. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Hala A. Hak

Hala A. Hak is affiliate instructor of psychology at the American University, Cairo, Egypt. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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DOI: 10.5040/9781474209441.0053

  • Editor(s):
    Mustafa Toprak (Regional Editor), Maria Teresa Tatto (Editor in Chief) and Ian Menter (Editor in Chief)
  • Publisher:
    Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
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Research on special education needs and disabilities

In 1991, Egypt, along with other Arab countries, started providing services and attempting to meet the needs of what was then referred to as children with special educational needs (Alkahtani 2016).

To ensure the success of inclusive education (IE) in Egypt there were a number of essential requirements: preparation of society; including families of children with disabilities; ensuring accessible schools; teacher preparation, which starts at university level and in-house training; ancillary services; legislation, to name a few (Ghoneim 2014).

An earlier document by UNICEF estimated that in 2010 to 2011, less than 10 percent of schools met national standards for quality education. For example, one in five school buildings were not usable due to lack of water and sanitation facilities (UNICEF n.d.).

By 2016, teachers with a pedagogic university qualification in primary education had reached 87.6 percent. Further, there was no available data until 2016 regarding the presence of “adapted infrastructure and materials” (CAPMAS and UNICEF 2017).

As of 2016, and supported by the European Union, IE in Egypt targeted “200 public schools benefiting 6,000 children with disabilities with 100,000 children overall in the age group 4–14 in targeted areas by 2020.” Presently 181 public primary schools in seven governorates covering major areas of Egypt “received resource rooms and adequate training to integrate 1,943 children with disabilities. 1,765 teachers, social workers, school psychologists, principals, and deputies were trained on inclusive education” (UNICEF 2018).

Programs and policies

Egypt has a dual educational system, namely, special education and mainstream education. Patchy efforts by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for persons with disabilities, cooperating with the Ministry of Education (MOE), presented successful models of IE (Abd Alhak 2002). With the issuing of the National Strategic Plan of Education Reform (2014–30), MOE committed itself to IE, whereby special schools will become resource and support centers for the new model (MOE 2014). In August 2017, a new ministerial decree was issued, no. 252 for 2017. It confirmed the right to IE for children with disabilities, in all private or public schools, as well as community schools, and provided parents with the right to opt for a special education facility. Children with any visual or motoric disability, including cerebral palsy (CP), were provided access to IE (Sidhom and Al Fustat 2014). Still excluded from IE were children with multiple disabilities, children with hearing disabilities whose hearing is less than 40 decibels with a hearing aid, and intellectual disabilities less than sixty-five on the Stanford-Binet Scale. Support services should be provided. Children with mild intellectual disability, children with Down syndrome, those under the autism spectrum, as well as children with CP will be exempted from learning a second language. The ratio of children with disabilities to nondisabled children shall be 1:10, not to exceed four students in one class, all with the same kind of disability (as per Ministerial Decree 252/2017). Dr. Soheir A. Hafiz, Consultant on hearing disability, commented that this can deprive children with cochlear implants from inclusion, as their hearing is usually between 25–35 decibels (Al-Ahram 2017).

Table 1 provides the numbers of students with disabilities between 2010 and 2016, organized by gender and location.

Table 1. Total Number of Students with Disability Enrolled in Special Education by Gender

School Year
Note: The data in this table refer exclusively to students enrolled in the Ministry of Education system (public and private) and does not include students enrolled in the Al-Azhar education system.
(Absolute Number)
By Location

Source: Ministry of Education, Statistical Yearbook, 2010/11–2015/16.


Although the Disability Law clearly states that IE is a right and it is punishable by law to deprive persons with disabilities from access to education, the executive bylaws have not been issued to date by the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) as per the statement by the deputy minister of social solidarity, on June 28, 2018. She said the activation of the law will entail many rights (Albawabhnews 2018). Earlier, on May 9, 2018, the MOSS declared that there will be great financial costs on the state budget with the activation of the law (Youm 7 2018).

In an interview about access to IE with an avid advocate of her daughter’s right to IE, Mrs. O. Khalil said that her concern is that since children with disabilities are approximately 10 percent of society,

to include them ALL, then ALL schools should accept 10% of students to be children with disabilities. However, schools say we have no support system for your child and thus, we cannot take them. The Ministry of Education says, we can’t force schools to accept the children. My question is HOW? You are the Ministry, you give the license to the schools, you must force schools to accept our children. Otherwise our children will end up on the streets. (O. Khalil interview on June 29, 2018; emphasis in original)

It is true that the ministerial decree no. 252 for the year 2017 is about IE. However, it stipulated that schools should indicate being inclusive implying that not all schools will be. Further, a decree can be amended or annulled.


The law stipulates that all children with visual, hearing, and physical disabilities including those with CP have the right to be included in mainstream schools after getting a medical check-up and an intelligence test, to ensure their adherence to the criteria of admission, in addition to using tests appropriate for different disabilities like those for children under the autistic spectrum (Watani 2017).

Furthermore, even though the law stipulates that children with disabilities should be included in mainstream school, so far there is nothing that makes it compulsory for schools to accept children with disabilities. So the current state of affairs is that children with disabilities who are not accepted in mainstream schools, whether public or private, are placed in special schools, catering for those with sensory impairment, and physical or cognitive disabilities. Children with multiple disabilities are usually not admitted to primary schools (Parnell 2017).

According to a research team from Egypt, the inclusive process in Egypt in primary schools is not going as smoothly as it should be, and they identified several issues, such as accessibility, distance from home, physical modifications were not made to any school to accommodate children with physical and motor disabilities. For example, of twenty-seven inclusive schools, only one school had placed the included child on the ground floor, all the other schools put children with disabilities in classes two or three floors up. The only preparation made in those schools was presence of a resource room, which existed in two thirds of the sample (Watani 2017).

Children with disabilities who are not included in mainstream schools are placed in special schools. For all those schools the age range of first primary is between 6 and 9 years of age subject to availability (MOE 2017).

Very little is mentioned in terms of support on the MOE website, however, some NGOs and International bodies contribute in this area, like Plan International that directly support children with disabilities and their families (Plan International 2017).

Another renowned NGO is Caritas Egypt, which provides a family- and community-oriented inclusive approach, support for children with disabilities and their families, as well as training to professionals (Caritas Egypt 2017).


There is no specific information on the funding of these support and educational programs, the official website of the MOE does not specify the amount of money allocated to support inclusion or the education of children with disabilities in special schools. But there is mention that part of the budget will be used to train teachers and to improve the facilities available for children with disabilities (MOE 2017).

It was reported that there will be increases in the budget in the fiscal year 2018/9 directed to education and health (Oxford Business Group 2018).

Teachers and teaching

One of the biggest obstacles in the face of successful inclusion is the lack of teacher training.

The study confirmed that the most highlighted difficulties relating to teachers is represented in the big load of educational and supervisory tasks the teacher bears with lack of financial incentive; non application of the incentives’ decision; scarcity of qualified teachers recruited in schools and lack of them in many schools, in addition to lack of training provided by the ministry that are directed to build the capacity of teachers in the field of educational inclusion; intensity of classes which may sometimes reach 120 students at the same class generating pressure on the teacher, and thus difficulty to manage the classroom properly. Some principals do not accept the idea of inclusion. (Handicap International, CCE, and IRC 2016: 15)

Concerning knowledge and skills of teachers in curricula, teaching methodologies and necessary teaching aids, in an interview conducted by Handicap International in Egypt in 2016, thirty-two teachers (45 percent) of those interviewed indicated that they had never attended training courses before, while thirty-nine confirmed (55 percent) that they had previously attended training courses. When asking the attendees about the topics of courses, they replied as follows:

  • training on importance of inclusion

  • how to teach categories who have learning difficulties

  • teaching intelligence to creators

  • how to teach special categories with learning difficulties using special education curriculum

  • training on the challenges facing students with disabilities and training difficulties of pronunciation and speech.

Despite the differing views of teachers regarding IE, they all agreed that the state must provide training for teachers to comprehend and learn about laws, policies, and international agreements on the rights of children with disabilities and to apply them attentively (Handicap International, CCE, and IRC 2016).

School personnel

On the MOE website, and in all documents relating to inclusion of children in Egypt, there was no mention of any ancillary staff that were trained to facilitate the inclusion of children with disabilities. The only mention was of a training initiative for social workers and teachers to facilitate the inclusion of children with disabilities. Studies refer to the lack of teacher training and support in programs of teacher training (Parnell 2017).

In private schools, support assistants are usually hired by parents and do not seem to receive any form of training. Their qualifications are usually being willing to do the job and holding any educational degree (Parnell 2017).

Further reading and online resources

Egypt Network for integrated Development. n.d. “Community Schools: Filling the Education Void in Rural Upper Egypt.” www.enid.org.eg/uploads/pdf/PB5_basic_educ.pdf .

El-Zouhairy, N. 2016. “Is Inclusion the Key to Addressing the Issue of Marginalization of Children with Mental Disabilities in Egypt?” MA thesis, The American University in Cairo.

Ministry of Education (MOE). 2014. National Strategic Plan for Pre-university Education in Egypt (2014–2030) . Accessed June 28, 2018. www.unesco.org/education/edurights/media/docs/c33b72f4c03c58424c5ff258cc6aeaee0eb58de4.pdf .

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). 2014. “Regional Report on Out-Of-School Children.” http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/regional-report-on-out-of-school-children-middle-east-and-north-africa-2015-en.pdf .


Abd, H. 2002. “State of Disability in Egypt–A Journey from Past to Present with a Vision into Future.” Presented at The International Summer School of University of Oslo.

Al Ahram . 2017. “Ministerial Decree 252/2017 on the Admission of Students with Disabilities in Schools, Ministry of Education.” August 8. Accessed September 13, 2018. www.ahram.org.eg/NewsQ/607571.aspx .

Albawabhnews. 2018. “Social Solidarity will Start a Societal Dialogue about the Executive By-laws of Disability Law.” Accessed September 13, 2018. www.albawabhnews.com/3167154 .

Alkahtani, M. A. 2016. “Review of the Literature on Children with Special Educational Needs .” Journal of Education and Practice 7 (35): 70–83 .

Caritas Egypt. 2017. “SETI: Quality of life for persons with disability.” Accessed June 24, 2018. http://caritas-egypt.org/en/project/disability/ .

Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt, and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Egypt. 2017. “Children in Egypt 2016: A Statistical Digest.” Cairo. January. Accessed June 2, 2018. www.ecdegypt.com/app/download/11735885357/eg_Children_In_Egypt_2016%283%29.pdf?t=1512399684P.149 .

Ghoneim, S. E. A. A. 2014. “Requirements for Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Public Education in Egypt .” Journal of Educational and Social Research 4 (4): 192 .

Handicap International, Center for Continuing Education (CCE), and Information & Research Center (IRC), King Hussein Foundation. 2016. Extended Summary of a National Study from Human Rights Perspective of Disabled Persons’ on “Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in Primary Education in Public Schools.”

Ministry of Education (MOE). 2014. The Strategic Plan for the Pre-university Education Reform in Egypt, 2014–2030. Accessed June 28, 2018. www.unesco.org/education/edurights/media/docs/c33b72f4c03c58424c5ff258cc6aeaee0eb58de4.pdf .

Ministry of Education (MOE). 2017. “Homepage.” Accessed June 2, 2018. www.moe.gov.eg .

Oxford Business Group. 2018. “Egypt Increases Spending on Education and Improves Quality and Access.” Accessed June 17, 2018. https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/overview/focus-point-increase-spending-should-support-aim-improving-quality-well-access .

Parnel, A. 2017. “Building Implementation Capacity for Inclusive Education in Egypt: An Approach to Quality Education for All.” The American University in Cairo.

Plan International. 2017. “Egypt: Building an Inclusive Environment for Children with Disabilities.” Accessed June 4, 2018. https://plan-international.org/eu/case-study-inclusive-environment-children-disabilities-egypt .

Sidhom, S. and Al-Fustat. 2004. Mainstreaming and Sustaining the Community School Model in Egypt: A Formative Evaluation. Cairo: UNICEF. Accessed September 13, 2018. www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/files/Egypt_Com_School_Model_2004_003.pdf .

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). n.d. “Egypt Programme Profile: Education.” Accessed June 29, 2018. www.unicef.org/egypt/education .

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). 2018. “Egypt: Education.” Accessed June 29, 2018. www.unicef.org/egypt/education .

Watani. 2017. “The Disability Law.” Accessed June 18, 2018. www.wataninet.com/2017/08/ .

Youm 7. 2018. “The Minister of Social Solidarity Issues the By Laws of the Disability Law.” Accessed June 22, 2018. www.youm7.com/story/2018/5/9/ وزيرة-التضامن-إصدار-اللائحة-التنفيذية-لقانون-ذوى-الإعاقة-خلال-أسبوعين/3785598.

Support services such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapist, occupational therapists, etc.

Government financed and run schools.

Privately financed schools that are under the direct supervision of the government, or international schools not funded or run by the government.

Schools that offer a curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving. It is based on a child-centered pedagogic model, targeting economically marginalized and rural population.