Emirati special needs teacher who won Dh1 million prize urges society to accept children of all abilities

Nora Abdullah Al Neyadi hopes to see a dedicated curriculum for people with learning difficulties

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A special-education teacher who won a Dh1 million UAE prize has urged society to accept children of all abilities.

Nora Abdullah Al Neyadi, an Emirati teacher at Mohammed bin Khalid School in Al Ain, works with about 10 pupils with autism, Down syndrome and learning difficulties.

She was one of the two winners of the third Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best GCC Teacher, announced in an online event beamed from Louvre Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

"I was caught by surprise," she told The National.

“When I applied for the award I never expected to win.”

Ms Al Neyadi earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in special education from UAE University and has been teaching at the school for five years.

Emirati teacher wins Dh1 million education prize

Emirati teacher wins Dh1 million education prize

“This has always been my passion. I believe that the more you accept and love people of determination, the more love you receive from them,” she said.

"I don’t call them people with special needs but people with happiness.

"The amount of love and happiness they have is limitless. All they need is our love and acceptance."

Ms Al Neyadi said she had not seen her pupils in person for almost two years because of the pandemic.

"Covid-19 has been difficult on everyone but particularly for these pupils who have been doing only distance learning. Getting them to sit still in front of the screen was a huge challenge," she said.

Ms Al Neyadi was recognised for the many projects she started to help disabled children, including a brochure in Braille and a video in sign language about Al Ain Palace Museum, the birthplace of the UAE's Founding Father.

She plans to use her prize money to set up projects for disabled pupils.

“They have tremendous support from the government but they lack a dedicated curriculum that is adapted to their specific disabilities,” she said.

“This is something which I have brought up and discussed many times and hope to push forward.”

She shared the honour with Saudi teacher Ahmed Hussein Al Maliki.

The award grants Dh6m in prize money and part of the fund is used to train the best 30 teachers.

The awards scheme was extended this year to include Egypt and Jordan.

The awards presentation was attended by Minister of Education, Hussain Al Hammadi, Mohammed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, director of the Office of Education Affairs at the Court of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and a host of other senior officials.

Mr Al Hammadi said the competition was an opportunity to pay tribute to the talent and dedication of teachers across the Gulf.

“[It] is a special day for top-achieving educators and a recognition of long years of achievements, creativity, innovation and dedication," he said.

The award celebrates excellence in the education sector in a variety of areas, including creativity, innovation, sustainable learning and positive citizenship.