The Baby Academy

Linked with our presentation of Dina Abdel Wahab – Egypt.

Linked also with our presentation of ashoka.

The Baby Academy is a chain of preschools for children three months to five years old. The school’s child-centered philosophy is based on love, learning and play and its curriculum is tailored to children’s developmental needs and designed to inspire children to achieve their potential.

Today the business is thriving with a remarkable 20 percent of its preschoolers children with special needs. Abdel Wahab recently opened a new branch in Cairo and plans to open two more schools in the next two years. Eventually she’d like to franchise the concept.

According to a United Nations report, less than four percent of Arab children have access to preschool education. The mission of The Baby Academy is to become a leader in early childhood education throughout Egypt and the Middle East.

Now that her private model is working, Abdel Wahab is preparing to work with the government. Since not everyone can afford The Baby Academy, she advocates for inclusion opportunities for special needs children in Egypt’s mainstream education system. She believes it is the role of entrepreneurs to envision new ideas to solve society’s problems and assume the risks of bringing them to life.

She says, “It is easier for me as an entrepreneur to take the risk and do something, than for the government to do that on a mass scale. I do think that this is the future, I do think we can work together as partners.”

Transscript of a videotape of a small report on CNN:

SHAHIRA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dina Abdel Wahab is the mother of an 8-year-old little boy, Ali, who has Down’s syndrome.

DINA ABDEL WAHAB, FOUNDER, BABY ACADEMY: I wanted him to be part of the society. I wanted him to live independently, to have a life and not to be sheltered in a house or to be secluded in any way.

AMIN: After failing to find a preschool that would accept Ali, Dina decided to start her own. Not only to give her son the opportunity for an education, but to try and mainstream other children with special needs. She called it the Baby Academy.

WAHAB: I was absolutely convinced, if you want to talk about mainstreaming and if you want to talk about inclusion of children with special needs, you have to start at a very young age.

AMIN (on camera): Not only is there the difficulty of placement in public and private school, but special needs children are also often shunned in this society. Ignorance, lack of awareness and even fear are some of the reasons why many Egyptians turn their backs on those with disabilities.

(voice-over): When Dina’s Baby Academy opened its doors five years ago to toddlers with special needs as well as normal children, some educators saw it as revolutionary, a whole new world opening up for these young people. A growing number of children are enrolling in Dina’s preschool, so many in fact she opened a second location last year.

The preschools have been a learning experience for both children and grown-ups, parents and teachers alike.

HERMINE SOBHY, TEACHER AND PARENT: Experience of dealing with special needs children in Baby Academy has been an eye-opener for both me and my son. It has taught us to see disability in a new and different light.

AMIN: Seventy-five children have graduated from the Baby Academy the last five years, to join other schools across Egypt. Not a sizable number, but the preschool may be hoping to change Egyptian education and attitudes and prepare the society as a whole for the inclusion.

Dina’s son, Ali, is now enrolled in a school for children beyond the age of preschoolers. His teacher is pleased with his progress.

UNA MULRENON, ALI’S TEACHER: I think he’s done extremely well. When he first came into the classroom, he had to be helped with all his work, because he finds a bit of difficulty with motor control. But since he’s arrived, he’s now able to do writing by himself.

AMIN: The Baby Academy has paved the way for children like Ali, but until Egyptian law forces the inclusion of special needs children into all mainstream education, Dina is determined to continue what she has started.

For INSIDE AFRICA, Shahira Amin, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE – see on this CNN page)

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