ABU DHABI, 18th March, 2019 (WAM) — The United Arab Emirates today announced that it would rollout the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools (UCS) program across public schools.
The announcement was made by the UAE Ministry of Education, Special Olympics UAE, and the International Special Olympics movement on the sidelines of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, which are set to be the largest in the Games’ 50-year history.
With sports as its foundation, the UCS program builds on Special Olympics’ values, principles and practices. By bringing these principles to life early on in schools – and at scale – the program aims to cultivate a generation that welcomes everyone and embraces differences. The rollout of the UCS program will promote social inclusion through planned activities that equip young people in the UAE with tools and training to facilitate an environment of acceptance and respect in their schools.
Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics Chairman, said: “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. This positive step is a significant milestone along the journey towards an even more inclusive future marked by equal opportunity for all, without exception.”
Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools bring youth with and without intellectual disabilities together through sports and education to provide classroom and community experiences that reduce exclusion, promote healthy activities, combat stereotypes, and engage young people in activities that lead to greater social inclusion.
“The UAE places the welfare and empowerment of ‘people of determination’ at the forefront of its priorities,” said Mohamed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, Director of the Education Affairs Office at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi. “This program further engrains the ideals of tolerance and solidarity in youth and empower students 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.”
The Unified Champion Schools program is built on the premise that in order to have the greatest impact, the change process needs to start with young people. The program has three main components – inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement – through which schools develop a climate of acceptance where students with disabilities can thrive and are routinely included in, and feel a part of, all school activities and opportunities.
“This is an exciting stage in the evolution of our education system, and indeed the first such country-wide adoption in the Middle East,” added Al Nuaimi. “As we commence with the rollout of the program in UAE public schools, I take this opportunity to extend an invitation to their private counterparts to get involved with the program so we can extend its impact to an even wider base of our youth. I have every confidence that this ambitious, wide-reaching program 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 has made inclusivity a priority within the country’s ‘National Vision 2021’ and is keen on developing a strong and long-lasting legacy for the Special Olympics World Games that promotes inclusion beyond 2019 through a wide range of initiatives at both the local and federal level.
The launch of the UCS program in public schools was preceded by a pilot program which saw 18 schools from across the Emirates take part in a pilot program where guidance was provided through teacher, coach and youth leadership training and support. The program also developed UCS playbooks and supplemental resources for teachers and students to use across public schools and Special Needs centers, which serve as an invaluable resource that include strategies, implementation guidance and tips for achieving more inclusive schools.