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Special Olympics’ Unified Schools Model—the Key to Transformational Inclusion in Schools

Map of the world with Greece, Kenya, India, and China highlighted.

Today, Special Olympics released research showing how their Unified Schools model removes one of the greatest barriers—negative attitudes and behaviors—for students with intellectual disabilities (ID) and improves the education of all students.

Unified Schools develops essential social-emotional skills of all students, including the following:

  • Patience,
  • Learning how their emotions and actions affect others, and
  • Learning from people who are different from them.

Unified Schools is also a major contributor to inclusive school climates, as reported by educators and students, alike. 

Worldwide, 65 million primary school-aged children are out of school, and about half of them have a disability. Negative attitudes and behaviors about disability are the second-leading cause of this exclusion, and our Unified Schools program effectively addresses this.

With the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), Special Olympics is breaking down barriers that exclude students with ID from their right to learn. Unified Schools benefits students with and without ID. Our research shows significant improvements in the educational experiences and social-emotional skill development of all students.

Unified Schools uses the power of sport to bring all students together, developing their skills and competing on the same team. What happens on the field then spreads throughout the rest of the school community, producing impressive results:

  • 94% of schools reported that Unified Schools made a big impact in reducing bullying, teasing, and offensive language in their schools. 
  • Over 4 out of 5 students with ID in China and Greece felt positively about their overall treatment in school.   
  • Over 90% of students without ID in India and Kenya reported their behavior changed as a result of Unified Schools programming.  
  • 80% of students without ID in India and Kenya reported improved social-emotional skill development after participating in Unified Schools.  
  • Over 4 out of 5 teachers in India and Kenya reported an improved sense of community. 

In light of these results, it’s time for policymakers and educators across the world to act. Unified Schools is a powerful, proven intervention that answers the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #4 and leaves no one behind. To learn more about the impact of Unified Schools, read the research infographic and brief.

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