A Special Olympics programme that pairs pupils with and without intellectual disabilities in sport and education to build inclusivity at schools will be rolled out across UAE public schools.
The Ministry of Education, Special Olympics UAE, and the International Special Olympics movement made the announcement on Monday, the fourth day of the World Games held in Abu Dhabi.
With sports as its foundation, the Unified Champion Schools programme builds on the values of the Special Olympics by bringing them to life early on in schools.
Through planned activities, the programme aims to equip young people in the UAE with tools and training to create an environment of acceptance and respect in their schools.
"It gives me great pleasure to see the UAE’s impressive efforts to incorporate the values of inclusion and diversity into the very fabric of school life,” said Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics.
“This positive step is a significant milestone along the journey towards an even more inclusive future marked by equal opportunity for all, without exception.”
The programme hopes to affect change where it will have make the greatest and most long-lasting difference, among young people. The UAE is the first country in the Middle East to implement a nationwide adoption of the programme.
Mohamed Al Nuaimi, director of the Education Affairs Office at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said the Unified Champion Schools was an extension of the UAE’s outlook towards people with disabilities.
“The UAE places the welfare and empowerment of ‘people of determination’ at the forefront of its priorities,” he said. “This programme further ingrains the ideals of tolerance and solidarity in youth and empower pupil of determination across the UAE to truly become full and equal participants, and to become actively engaged members of a community that embraces and supports all.”
Though the programme will be introduced to only public schools for now, Mr Al Nuaimi called on private schools to follow suit.
“As we commence with the roll-out of the programme in UAE public schools, I take this opportunity to extend an invitation to their private counterparts to get involved with the programme so we can extend its impact to an even wider base of our youth. I have every confidence that this ambitious, wide-reaching programme will drive significant positive impacts across our society by creating school environments where diversity is valued, differences are celebrated, and every student is a contributing member.”
The UAE made inclusivity a priority within the country’s ‘National Vision 2021’. The launch of the UCS programme in public schools was preceded by a pilot run involving 18 schools from across the country.