UAE finalist for Global Teacher Prize says 'special needs pupils are my family'

Riadh Zammali, a teacher in Abu Dhabi, is in the top 50 shortlist for the Global Teacher Prize 2021

Riadh Zammali, the global teacher prize nominee helps a young child with her swimming. Photo: Riadh Zammali
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A teacher at a UAE public special needs school hopes to launch an association to support children with special needs if he wins the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize.

The Global Teacher Prize is an annual award to an educator who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

Riadh Zammali, a 39-year-old Tunisian teacher in Abu Dhabi, is in the top 50 shortlist.

In my family I have people who have special needs. This has given me the power to help these pupils
Riadh Zammali

“I was very, very happy to be shortlisted in the top 50. It was a surprise for me,” said Mr Zammali, who teaches physical education.

“I want to help pupils with special education needs integrate in society.

“My family is in Tunisia and my wife is a teacher here in the UAE. I come from a family of teachers so we are very happy at this news.

“My family and colleagues, all of us are very excited.”

Riadh Zammali from Tunisia, teaches at a special needs school in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Riadh Zammali

Mr Zammali said he wants to help children across the MENA region.

If he wins the Global Teacher Prize, he would like to launch an association called Technology for Charity. This would support children with special needs in poor countries to use specially adapted smart learning, augmented and virtual reality tools to get equal access.

“In my family I have people who have special needs and my first job was to volunteer with children who have special needs. This has given me the power to help these pupils,” he said.

“I help the children to study but also help them improve their health.

“If I win this prize, I want to launch an association to support education technology for children who have special needs.

“My pupils are my family. I am very happy to support them.”

He would also like to launch an annual award celebrating teachers who have helped integrate people with special needs into the community, and to open a sports and social academy for children who have suffered injuries due to conflict.

Mr Zammali started his career as a volunteer teacher in Tunisia in 2004. He worked at a centre for children with special needs in a small village where he would frequently pay pupils’ travel expenses so they could compete in national events.

During this time, his pupils won more than 15 medals in the Tunisian Championship for SEN sports.

Soon afterwards, he was recruited as a physical education teacher by the Ministry of Education in Tunisia and assigned to three schools in a rural area where most pupils had to walk more than 10 kilometres to school.

There was little infrastructure or equipment to teach physical education but Mr Zammali launched many school clubs, as well as the first sports associations for girls.

He moved to the UAE in 2010. In 2018, he joined the Ghayathi Centre for Special Needs in Abu Dhabi, where he introduced new approaches to sports for children with special needs.

His pupils have won more than 100 national and international prizes.

He launched a coding curriculum for pupils to teach them Stem skills, while also creating a special programme for pupils who are gifted and talented at sports.

In 2020, Mr Zammali was named the best teacher in Abu Dhabi public centres for people with disabilities and was nominated for the Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best Gulf Teacher.

Updated: September 13, 2021, 4:10 AM