Cost and academic credentials remain at the heart of many UAE parents’ decisions when selecting a school for their children but academic institutions are increasingly looking to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Words such as community, sustainability, tolerance and critical thinking are increasingly commonplace within the UAE’s education sector.
Matthew Farthing, Principal, Nord Anglia International School Dubai (Nas Dubai), says that his school’s partnerships with leading and progressive international organisations offer his students skills and experience far beyond academic success alone.
Nord Anglia has a global partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for example. The value of that is it makes us think about innovation, entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary thinking.
“We are part of group of 63 schools internationally so, by joining a Nord Anglia school, you are joining a large family of schools worldwide. It may not mean much to a pupil who joins but later it grows and one of the real values of scale in an education is that it can buy you into international partnerships,” he says.
“Nord Anglia has a global partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for example. The value of that is it makes us think about innovation, entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary thinking. We can create really exciting projects and students can see these projects in the context of things which are happening in Dubai.”
Farthing refers to a recent project where pupils worked with MIT to programme drones to differentiate between water and land and also to locate rubbish and wildlife, helping to protect the UAE’s wild turtle population.
“Most drones are controlled by radio but, in collaboration with MIT and a company in Dubai, young children learned to programme the drones to go up and down and backwards and forwards. They then attached a camera optic and programmed them to distinguish between earth and water and later detect plastics and turtles.”
NAS Dubai has an ethos of teaching students to think in an international context but then take these skills and use them in a way that can benefit the local community here in the UAE.
The school has a partnership with a UNICEF summit at the UN, where students are sent to New York. They then return to the school as ambassadors for the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. “There is the idea of thinking global but acting local and we use the goals very carefully to build our relationship with Dubai Cares,” says Farthing.
For the previous four years, NAS Dubai students have benefited from a partnership with The Julliard School for performing arts, which is recognised as one of the very best in the world.
“It’s not necessarily about creating international musicians, drama or dance specialists but about creating a coherent programme that develops creative skills in those disciplines,” says Farthing.
He says that the school approaches the arts from the context of encouraging pupils’ individual sense of creativity, which can be lost if neglected.
“It’s about keeping that childlike sense of creativity and wonder at the world of creativity going.”
The school has also cultivated a partnership with Dubai Opera, where pupils are able to witness live performances by professional musicians, attend dress rehearsals, enjoy behind-the-scenes tours and complete work experience at the venue.
Last term, students from NAS Dubai’s secondary school took the unprecedented step of coming forward to ask to suspend the timetable for the last week of term. They said they would prefer to commit the time to an open dialogue about the Black Lives Matter movement and what that means. After cautious consideration, the staff agreed to the request and brought in various guest speakers.
“We did auditing on how much of the curriculum is white male dominated and we looked at how the slave trade was taught. We approached the subject very carefully so that it was under UN Sustainability Goal 10 [reduced inequalities],” says Farthing.
“It was an example of how schools must respond to students’ voices. If students come forward with a relevant idea and you don’t listen to it, you’re selling them short.”
To learn more about NAS Dubai, visit here.