Abu Dhabi: Julie Richards, a long-standing and highly-valued faculty member of Higher College of Technology (HCT) and Abu Dhabi Men’s College (ADMC) has been awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her contribution to UK education overseas.
The award will be presented to her by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at a ceremony in November.
Julie has been a teacher at the HCT for the past 15 years. Her accomplishments made the provost very proud, and she was introduced to Shaikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, who is also the school’s Chancellor.
This honour is in recognition of her role as chair of the board of governors at the British School Al Khubairat, which she has carried out for nine years. Under Julie’s stewardship, the school has expanded greatly and undergone external reviews by the UK’s independent schools inspectors with the most recent report ranking the school as ‘outstanding’ in every capacity.
“I was looking for a new position in a country with a warm climate. I was offered a position in the UAE which looked like a great opportunity,” she said, recalling how events brought her to the UAE.
That was in 1994.
“I am still here 18 years later,” she said.
Julie has been involved in education for over 30 years and taught in the UK, Poland and the UAE at secondary and tertiary levels.
Her view of the educational system in the UAE is encouraging.
“I am always amazed at the talent and abilities of our students, and most of them are very competent users of technology,” she said.
“Students in the Education programme are exceptionally committed and dedicated, and on the Applied Media programme, student film-makers have achieved international acclaim for their creative work.”
She is all praise for the UAE’s approach to education. “The UAE has made significant steps forward in recent years by investing in education, increasing teachers’ salaries, providing teacher training and improving facilities and equipment,” she said.
The UAE educational system, she says, has produced people with high-quality education who can perform the job with equal capability as those from the West.
“I think the UAE needs to recruit from its own very talented students who would make first-rate teachers,” she said.
She also made several recommendations, aimed at helping the UAE on its continued path to self-sustainment and economic development.
“Emirati potential teachers will only be attracted and retained in the profession by a competitive package, similar to that which they could earn in other fields,” she said.
However, while the students have very high potential, she believes that most of them need to pay more attention to cope with life as independent professionals.
“I think that many students are poorly prepared for college life,” she said.
“They don’t always have the basic skills required for tertiary education and are not able to cope with independence and responsibility.
“They often spend a year or more learning how to make the transition from school to college.”
She also urges parents to be more involved in the educational journey of their children.
“Parents have a part to play,” she said. “British parents are often very involved in their children’s education. They involve themselves in the life of the school by volunteering as parent helpers, attending functions and parent-teacher meetings, and supporting their child’s learning at home.
“I think this is very important in improving a child’s overall school experience and it would be beneficial if Emirati parents could be encouraged to become more involved.”
Students, Julie believes, need to be developed beyond their academic education, and in particular, in virtues that are important in honing their talent, creativity and independence.
“I think schools should educate children in the wider sense, not just focus on academic subjects,” she said.
“They should instil values such as tolerance, empathy, respect and passion. Good schools allow children to experience a range of activities including sports, music, drama and trips out of school or even outside of their own country.”
Education, according to Julie, is a long-term enterprise and the results of any changes may take months, even years to be realised. “There is no ‘quick fix’ and improvement will only come about by sustained effort and investment,” she said.
As for her own journey of life in the UAE, it has been a warm and wonderful one.
“We love living in the UAE. I met my husband Clive here and we were married here in St Andrews Church in 1997. We have two children, David, 12, and Catherine, 11, who have never lived anywhere else,” she said.
Proud of her accomplishments, she gives credit for her success to the support network of people around her.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband, Clive, and family as being chair means having to multi-task all the time as a teacher, administrator, parent and partner,” she said.