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Selma Waleed Mubarak shows a hand-written note of appreciation from a parent during an interview with Gulf News at her residence in Muhaisnah, Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: As the UAE prepares to mark International Teachers’ Day on October 5, a Dubai-based Emirati resident says education has come a long way in the country.

Coming from her, that is no rhetoric.

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Among the pioneering women educators of the UAE, Salma Waleed Mubarak reminisces about how she would convince families to send their daughters to school from a caravan in the midst of the desert in Al Khawaneej in the late 1970s.

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Salma Waleed Mubarak (seated) at the first elementary girls' school in Al Khawaneej in the 1970s. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Tasked with setting up the first girls-only elementary school in the area, Selma had much convincing to do. “It was a time when families would pull out their daughters from school after Grade 5 because the only school they were going to had co-education. So when I was to set up the first girls’ elementary school in Al Khawaneej, the challenge before me was to get these families to send their girls back to school. I would go into the desert and plead with parents. The efforts paid off and we were able to start the school with 15 girls in Grade 1,” she said.

The former school teacher who went on to become principal recollected how it wasn’t just the students who had to be taught. “Back then, the idea of education was not as important as marriage when it came to girls. So I would literally take lectures for parents to convince them about how their girls could be empowered through education. The relationship between teachers and parents was full of trust and understanding. Even today, many of these parents are in touch as we go back a long way,” she said.

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Salma Waleed Mubarak started the first girls' elementary school in Al Khawaneej with 15 students in grade 1. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

No looking back

As the years went by, Salma said more people saw the benefits of education for their girls. “There has been no looking back since as the sky is the limit for Emirati girls today. From those early days when the only job they would take up was teaching, look at where they are now — there is no field that they are not a part of. No matter where you put an Emirati woman, she will achieve excellence because that is the kind of support she receives from the government,” said Salma.

A mother of six, including four girls, Salma said all her children are well-educated and working.

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A photo during a school activity at the first girls' elementary school set up by Salma Waleed Mubarak in Al Khawaneej. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Having completed a diploma in education in 1973, Selma said she herself was fortunate to be among the country’s early students. “I lived in Dubai, but the school I went to was in Sharjah. It would take me around 45 minutes to get there by bus. But there was not a single day when I did not want to go to school,” she said.

Years later, students at the Al Khawaneej school also shared the same enthusiasm. “Many of these girls would travel from Sharjah. Come rain, sandstorm or peak of summer, they would never be late for school. The girls came from both the urban and Bedoin pockets, but were equally passionate and competitive when it came to their studies. The results are there for all to see now,” she added.

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Ask Salma what she thinks of e-learning and the current education system in the UAE, and she says few countries are better equipped to shape the future. “From the yesteryear desert caravans with a handful of students to the virtual reality that education is today, the learning never ends,” she noted.