Hanan Al Attar with her special need student Ahmad Al Maghrabi at the honoring ceremony of Emirates Award for Educational Excellence for year 2013/2014 in Dubai on Wednesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: An exceptional educator was awarded yesterday for bridging gaps between children with special needs and their classmates, by creating the first electronic tablet orchestra that includes children with special needs in the UAE.

Hanan Al Attar, a music supervisor at the Sharjah Education Zone, received the Emirates Award for Educational Excellence in the Exceptional Educator category.

The Minister of Education, Humaid Al Qutami, awarded Hanan and other educators and educational zones in the award ceremony held in Dubai for excelling in their fields.

Hanan’s ‘For a child’s smile’ project initially used traditional musical instruments in her orchestra and choir that included children with special needs and their peers in public schools.

However, after introducing the smart learning initiative in public schools, she found that replacing traditional instruments with iPad, is the perfect solution to the short supply of instruments. It was also easier to use by children who suffer from physical disabilities.

Her electronic tablet orchestra comprised 68 children, including those with special needs who have Down’s syndrome, autism and physical disabilities, to name a few.

“Some children with physical disabilities can’t hold the real instrument. With the use of an iPad a child can choose whatever instrument he wishes. I had a student called Abdullah who couldn’t even hold a pen. He is now able to play small pieces using the iPad.”

Hanan said the iPad is easier to use, it is faster and it is more easily available to students than traditional instruments.

“Seeing these children smile and be proud of themselves is a dream come true. Music has helped remove the gap between them. The normal kid is no longer looking at the disability, they are looking at the talent.”

Hanan’s previous projects included a choir comprising 150 pupils out of whom 38 had special needs. It also included a project where teachers taught subjects such as maths and science and made them into a song to make it easier to learn.

Ahmad Al Maghrabi, an eight-year-old pupil who suffers from Collins syndrome and is partially deaf, is part of the iPad orchestra. He said he loves playing the drums with his iPad.

“I like music because I got first place in a competition and I got to tell all my friends.”

Ahmad’s mom, Rajaa Hijab, said being part of the orchestra has changed his personality and made him more confident. It has also helped him gain respect among his peers.

“He used to ask me, ‘Mum why do my classmates look at me? Why do I look different?’ After joining the orchestra he became more confident, he became part of something.”

Maisoon Daghlas, supervisor of Geography and Economics at the Sharjah Education Zone, was also awarded yesterday for being an exceptional educator. Maisoon came up with the concept of having more greenery in schools to be used in science projects.

“My ideas have been implemented in 33 schools so far. The students are taught how to plant in these spaces. They can also implement science projects in real life. I also have another 16 educational projects,” she said.