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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

UAE Portrait of a Nation: teachers determined to leave no child behind 

Centre offers hope to parents of children facing learning difficulties in Abu Dhabi

Zinah Madi, co-founder and director of Dots and Links, offers hope to children facing learning challenges. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Zinah Madi, co-founder and director of Dots and Links, offers hope to children facing learning challenges. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Two passionate educators are determined to leave no child behind.

This shared goal prompted them to establish the Dots and Links centre to assist learners with study difficulties.

Zinah Madi, 43, and Razan Nabulsi, 38, had long wondered how best to help students with attention problems.

They both had careers in the education sector in Abu Dhabi, and had experienced first hand the despair of parents whose children were falling back.

“The only options available were in the form of modifications, like let the student sit in the front, give him extra time to solve the exam. But until when? There had to be a solution to make the child independent,” said Mrs Madi.

“We used to sit over lunch break every day and wonder what we can do,” she said.

“My background is in special education, and when I decided to do my master’s in the UK a long time ago, I wanted to come back to the Arab world and do something different, I wanted to come back and help people,” explained Mrs Nabulsi.

Having had experience in Jordan and the UAE, she noticed a big difference in techniques and methods in the UK. Her studies were based on how to support struggling students in schools, which usually meant sending them to a therapist, “but I still felt there is a big need to empower these students,” she said.

“We were putting a bandage (on), just to let them get through school, so I had this big dream to empower learners," said Mrs Nabulsi.

The solution continued to elude them, until seven years ago when one of their struggling students went through a programme in the US called BrainRX. The technique uses intense mental exercises to sharpen the core skills the brain uses to think, learn, read, reason and pay attention.

The programme had been offered in the US for the past 30 years.

“He came back as a different child, so I thought what is this amazing programme, this is what we need,” said Mrs Nabulsi.

They found out that a licensed BrainRX centre was already operating in Dubai and visited to speak to students and trainers.

Both knew they had to bring these techniques to the capital. Their conviction was such that the pair quit their full time jobs and trained in Dubai and Singapore.

But their journey to launch the Dots and Links centre as a home for the programme in Abu Dhabi was not an easy one.

Despite all the “hiccoughs” they faced, the pair said they did not hesitate to leave their comfortable jobs and invest their own money in the project.

“I felt I have been doing the same thing for a long time, so I wanted to do something that was more meaningful; to help children learn," said Mrs Madi. “We did everything ourselves from A to Z, it took us about eight months to open. There were obstacles but we kept going, I remember having to go back and forth to do the paper work.”

Since its launch six years ago, 600 people – including students, adults and mothers – have benefited from the programme at Dot and Links. The training combines one-on-one exercises with a personal trainer and digital exercises on a computer.

Exercises include, having students do calculations very quickly while being bombarded by distractions, forcing them to concentrate despite the noise surrounding them.

“So in the beginning they can’t handle it, you see them closing their ears, but with training you see them starting to handle it, it is really fun but very intense,” said Mrs Madi.

The programme is not just beneficial for young learners, but adults too. Many enrol for the programme to improve at work, boost their memory and to help avoid Alzheimer’s.

The programme, said the pair, is also beneficial for people who have suffered brain injuries from an accident; “it is like physiotherapy for the brain, because the brain is a muscle and you need to exercise it.”

Also those who have been diagnosed as autistic, dyslexic, and various types of attention disorder, are often referred by their physicians.

“The highlight is when parents come back and tell us how their child has become a different person,” said Mrs Madi.