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Special Olympics UAE’s Unified Champion Schools Programme Announces Impactful Results

by Eddie Rayner

Special Olympics UAE announced that 255 schools nationwide have achieved Unified School status for the academic year 2021-2022. The Unified Champion Schools Programme fosters inclusive school environments for students through Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement, which are the three main components of the programme.

Her Excellency Shamma bint Suhail Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Special Olympics UAE, said: “Progressive schools enhance all students’ experiences by building an empowering community. They are places that put students at the centre of everything they do, embrace a culture of inclusion, respect and acceptance, and achieve a balance between community and individuality.”

Her Excellency added: “Special Olympics UAE is delighted to work with many of these schools in the UAE; ones that have earned the titles of Unified Schools and Unified Champion Schools and others that are working towards achieving these titles this year. Their commitment helps us in realising the programme’s goals that focus on creating an inclusive community. We are very proud of the exceptional efforts of these schools and teachers who have worked hard to learn more about their students with intellectual and developmental disabilities through numerous bespoke professional development sessions offered by Special Olympics UAE, with specialist trainers in response to teacher feedback and evaluation of school challenges, to ensure that they understand how to support them, whether on an educational or a social level within school activities.

“To all Unified Champion Schools 2021-2022, your role doesn’t end here, as inclusion is not just a programme, it’s a way of existing and we all play a role in the sustainability of this impact.”

Unified Champion Schools

Unified Champion Schools is the Special Olympics UAE’s flagship programme that promotes inclusion in schools’ communities. The programme runs in over 400 public and private schools across the UAE and the new season was launched this academic year with various in-person and online programmes and events. From inclusive sports events to leadership programmes and teacher training, the programme seeks to empower students of determination and give them the opportunity to have important and significant roles in their communities.

UCS continues to expand opportunities for schools to engage students both within school campuses and in the community. Adding to the successful Unified Robotics competition season, the academic year 2022-2023 will see the launch of the first nationwide Unified Sports league. In its inaugural year, the Unified League will focus on football and badminton.

Registration in the Unified Robotics and Unified Sports league Programmes for the academic year 2022-2023 was record-breaking, with more than 250 teams registered in the Unified Robotics competition, which will have its qualifying rounds in February 2023. The Unified Sports League’s registration topped 360 Football and Badminton teams across public and private schools, and the qualifying rounds will be taking place during the second school term. Both National Finals will be taking place during the third school term.

255 schools achieved Unified School status for the academic year 2021-2022 across the UAE

Statistics about the Unified Champion Schools Programme’s Impact

In a survey, conducted by KPMG to measure the impact of UCS that included 204 participating schools; 80% of surveyed parents reported that their children participate in more activities in their community, have better health (83%), improved sports skills (83%), join another sports team outside of Unified Sports (80%), do more exercises every week (83%).

For most UCS participants with an intellectual or developmental disability (ID/DD), UCS facilitated positive identity development by building confidence, agency, and understanding of their disability, and providing a platform for participants with ID/DD to advocate for themselves.

Further facilitating positive identity development, participants with ID/DD also noted that UCS creates a setting for students to feel seen, accepted, and included (83%). In fact, all participants with ID/DD noted personal growth as a result of their participation in UCS (71.4%). Participants without ID/DD did comment on similar positive identity impacts (45.7%) from UCS. Special Olympics UAE estimates that 20,000 students, including athletes and Unified partners, are impacted by UCS programmes.

Over 20,000 students, including athletes and Unified partners, benefit from the Unified Schools programmes

Waleed Al-Helou, the Unified Champion Schools Programme coordinator at Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib School said: “The Unified Champions Schools programme has impacted our school community in many ways, as it strengthened the relationship between athletes, their peers, and Unified partners, which accelerated their integration in general throughout the school society. It also supported in spreading awareness among the school’s leadership and teachers which was instrumental to our success in implementing the programme and being awarded the title of a Unified School by the UAE Special Olympics.”

Sahar Abu Al-Amaym, a physical education teacher at Hamdan Bin Zayed School, which achieved the title of Unified Champions School, said: “UCS helped our students learn new academic and social skills. It continuously enhances self-confidence and reinforces the notion that everyone is included. When society and families are aware of people of determinations’ abilities, we pave the way for the discovery and development of untapped potential, which ultimately translates to valuable and diverse contributions to our school community and society at large.”

Teachers Professional Development

Teachers across the UAE have been provided with multiple professional development opportunities through partnerships with Youth Sport Trust, PASS Abu Dhabi and World Badminton Federation. Special training programmes were also covered for early education teachers on the Young Athletes programme (SOI Trainers), as well as general education teachers through specialist inclusion training. The Unified Education programme was developed in partnership with the Applied Behavioural Training Institute (ABTI). Further technical training will be offered throughout the academic year as part of Special Olympics UAE’s commitment to supporting inclusion efforts within UAE schools.