Special Olympics UAE has launched the Unified Champion Schools (UCS) programme for the 2021-2022 academic year with over 200 registered public and private schools across the UAE.

UCS is a global school-based programme that aims to integrate students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve an inclusive environment in education. The programme has expanded across seven regions over the last year, making it one of the largest initiatives for inclusion in education for students of all abilities.

The comprehensive programme offers a three-component approach offering schools multiple opportunities for inclusion through unified sports, inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement activities that run throughout the school year. The national rollout encourages all public and private schools of all curricula to register for the Unified Champion Schools programme. Schools can become a Unified School if at least one unified sport is offered in one semester. Schools can progress to becoming a Unified Champion School if inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement requirements are fulfilled.

Unified Champion Schools equips young people, teachers, trainers with tools and resources to create climates of acceptance in sports, classrooms, and throughout the entire school community. It aims to encourage engagement between youth and empower them with inclusive opportunities that are aligned with schools’ timelines and curricula. To complement this, Unified Champion Schools also offers capacity-building sessions for teaching staff and educators to create socially inclusive classrooms and activities through professional development training.

Talal Al Hashemi, National Director of Special Olympics UAE, said, “This year, we have curated an impressive and diverse array of programme s and initiatives under the umbrella of Unified Champion Schools; from Unified Sports to leadership and activities that bring the entire school communities together to embrace and practice inclusion. Unified Champion Schools contributes to the vision of the UAE’s leadership to embed the values of respect and inclusion in all aspects of society, and naturally schools have to be among the first places to start.

“We are excited about the response we have received from schools so far and invite anyone interested in bringing the programme to their schools to connect with us today. We thank our stakeholders, various education groups and schools that have already registered for their ongoing support of our work as we join hands to make inclusion in schools an everyday reality that is enjoyed by all.”

The Unified Champion Schools programme provides a wide range of exciting and engaging activities, clubs, and events throughout the academic year. Unified Sports, the foundation of the programme , offers five different activities including Unified Athletic Skills and Unified Football League in partnership with PASS Abu Dhabi, Unified Badminton, Unified Fitness Clubs and the popular Unified Robotics competition, the largest competition of its kind for neurodiverse students in MENA.

UCS was initially introduced in the UAE in 2019 with nine schools achieving the status. The global programme has received the generous support of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, expanding the programme across six countries, including Argentina, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Romania, and Rwanda.

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