By: Salamah Ghudayer
It is a never-ending cycle - our children are heading back to school. Education in the Emirates has always been valued and taken seriously, as was the teacher; who was always held in high esteem amongst the local community. In the past, study took the form of sitting in circles under the shade of a tree, around the majlis of a neighbor or of the very teacher’s own home. Sheikhs and Sheikhas or children of leading businessmen were entrusted to tutors who were educated adults from the area. Known back then as Mutawaa or Mualam, brings forth the best description of the era; as they mean volunteer and the one with knowledge. Life was harsher and very basic. For a long time, there were no formal schools, where a Mudarrisa would teach her lessons in a well-equipped Madrasa; which means school. It was often a nearly volunteer basis, being paid for one or two children, but in actuality welcoming all who would sit still and pay attention. In the religion, someone with knowledge is compelled to share it and not withhold it as a benefit only to themselves. In Dubai, mainly Arabic, Quran, Manners, Math and Negotiation were taught to their students; sometimes with the soft care of an uncle and sometimes in harsher ways with the use of a slender stick! Then businessmen opened a few schools, as did neighboring countries through donations and local rulers themselves were able to as well. Now the old schools are relegated to museums and class rooms in the historical palaces have been preserved. Modern schools compete for business with offerings of nicer designs and more and more offerings. Currently there are initiatives to improve all schools; public and private to reach and maintain world renowned status. The market is flooded for choice as well, to cater to the various expat languages and needs.
In local homes there is a mix of the old and new; even down to education. After school hours, many families still employ tutors. Often Emirati children find their late afternoons taken up by various private tutors throughout the week to improve on Math, Arabic, English and Quran memorization. Usually, the child needs to be plucked from a football game outside or by shutting down the wifi, but when the tutor has arrived, there could be few guests deserving of any more respect. Trays of hot or cold drinks and plates of snacks are awaiting them as is often a parcel of the evening meal for him or her to take home or enjoy on the way to their next house. There are many stories; like those of two brothers in Alain, who went to great lengths to avoid their tutor sessions decades ago. Luckily as teenagers; lucky for all involved, the house had just brought on a kitchen assistant from Pakistan of their same age. He wished for more and the brothers wished for much less ‘special attention,’ so a deal was struck. The kitchen assistant played the role of a son, got an education and the boys…have grown into educated gentlemen who laugh about their escapades as kids, with scars and memories to prove it. The assistant stayed with the family for nearly forty years and could handle calculus better than most.
The summer is coming to a close and just as the weather will turn cooler, the school year begins again. Children will be in their new uniforms and neighborhoods will be bustling with the noise of school buses and playing children starting just after dawn. New teachers and those of experience will be awaiting to fulfill their unparalleled responsibility. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan is quoted as saying, “The real asset of any advanced nation is its people…and the prosperity and success of the people are measured by the standard of their education.”