Dubai: The challenges of running a school from the middle of a deserted area with no lights or water back in 1974 - where parents didn't even know Dubai beyond its famous Clock Tower - did not hinder Arab Unity School from becoming one of the leading educational institutions in the country today.

The school was established in two apartments in Al Nasr Square with only 15 students and approximately six teachers. Each flat had three classrooms with a teacher assigned to each class. Within a year, the school had around 22 children of mixed nationalities, said Zainab Taher, Founding Director of the school.

"In those days very few schools were there and I wanted a good institution to be established in this part of the world. I myself was a teacher and this was my ambition," she said.

Her husband Abdul Hussain Taher, Managing Director of the Arab Unity School, described his wife as a "born teacher for over 11 years who had a vision to start up her own school."

Their daughter Arwa Taher is the Executive Director of the school - or rather called by her proud father, "the boss."

A UAE national suggested the school name, Arab Unity, to the founder and since 1974 the school held this name, although sometimes it confuses parents who think it is an Arabic school.

Following its establishment, the family was given a huge plot of land by the late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former ruler of Dubai, at its current location in Al Mizhair starting off with a nursery, kindergarten and grades 1-3.

One of the most challenging periods the school went through was within two and a half years after shifting location. Taher said the school lost around 200 students in the process.

Family-friendly area

Parents did not want to send their children to a remote area, which is now considered one of the most friendly, family-oriented places. The school is bordered by Al Mizhair American Academy for Girls and Dubai Modern Education School.

"It was a tough time, although we provided transportation. This part was still out of the way and there were no lights in the area. Parents were not used to going beyond the Clock Tower," Taher said.

Now the school accommodates more than 3,000 pupils from 20 nationalities and has a UK-based curriculum recognised by the University of Cambridge.

Last year the family opened the New Arab Unity School, based on the American Curriculum, with around 200 pupils.

The school currently has over 200 employees and is running one of the biggest O (ordinary) and A (advanced) levels exam rates as well as IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education).

"In those days we had two divisions of classes and I think until grade 7 there were two divisions. We had limited facilities - we had a big playground and a PE (physical education) teacher in a small hall. Now the school is fully equipped with laboratories," she said.

Although the school is unable to accommodate special needs children, it is still best known for offering high standards of education with reasonable fees to respond to the needs of a wider range of the expatriate community.

A majority of their graduates are heading towards American and European universities, but recently there has been an increase in the number of pupils attending local universities in Dubai, as the emirate is aiming to become a knowledge hub in the region.

Taher said : "Dubai in 1974 was a small township. People were very loving and simple. And certainly the traffic was not at all there. It would take me only 20 minutes to drive from Deira to the school. Now it takes me two hours. Dubai is coming up so well as a modern city. But it has become a very expensive city. Parents have become worried about that."

"I had a dream to establish a school and I have a dream that both my schools will become the best," she said.