Special needs children find buddies at Dubai school
Dubai - Determined ones get to attend classes with TMS students and participate in sports, music and other activities.
Promoting the emirate's inclusive education policy, a programme has been bringing 35 kids of determination and 15 of their teachers to a Dubai school for weekly activities and student interaction.
The governor of inclusion of Manzil Centre, Chaica Sultan Saqr Al Qassimi, recently visited The Millennium School (TMS) to celebrate the Best Buddies programme, which aims to foster friendship and promote an exchange of ideas between schoolchildren and the determined ones.
As part of the programme, the determined ones get to attend classes with TMS students and participate in sports, music and other activities. The idea behind it is to promote inclusion in schools, helping the students understand each other better.
"This will mould young minds to think of inclusion at all levels. For after all, inclusive practices will help reduce bullying and discrimination against those with disabilities. It is about our rights, our voice," said Chaica, who has been designated as a torch-bearer at Special Olympics 2019.
She said she was delighted to see the pupils do things together with such ease that she couldn't tell the difference. She explained how she had found it difficult to make friends and felt that a programme such as Best Buddies should be strongly promoted especially in schools.
TMS was one of the first schools to implement the Best Buddies programme in 2007.
Recently, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) released a 40-page guidebook that lists a number of requirements that private schools have to follow, including ensuring that students of determination get admission and setting up an inclusion support team so that no discrimination occurs. The list is part of the KHDA's Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework that aims to make all schools 100 per cent inclusive by 2020.
Veniza Fernandez, Best Buddies coordinator at TMS, said: "TMS on every Wednesday welcomes about 35 pupils and 15 teachers from the Manzil centre for people with disabilities. Various activities in sports and important skills such as computers, art, music, etc., are organised for the pupils. This has been a collaborative project between Manzil and TMS since 2008.
"Today, the school has extended the programme to include a Manzil pupil who gets an opportunity to spend 40 per cent of his weekly instructional time within TMS classrooms. The programme has also bonded families together."
Within the Best Buddies programme, a student becomes a 'peer buddy' to a child of determination, who can then meet and be friends with other pupils and their families.
"Buddy pairs are created between mainstream school pupils and individuals from various special needs centres in the UAE. This helps the determined ones to be included in parties and other social gatherings. Currently, we have 32 friendships going on between our students and determined ones," Fernandez said.
Dr Ayesha Saeed Husaini, director at Manzil, said: "Manzil has been working towards educational, vocational and social inclusion since its inception, in line with the vision of the leaders of the UAE. The partnerships with schools like TMS are making this vision a reality. While being a challenging programme, it is also rewarding in many aspects to see children develop bonds that sometimes evolve into beautiful friendships. Due to the consistency of the programme at TMS, the acceptance of differences has increased and barriers have been removed."