UAE Schools Nurturing Innovators, Entrepreneurs

The UAE is nothing if not an ambitious nation. It’s perhaps unsurprising then when we set out to look at the topic of entrepreneurialism, we found flourishing business, innovation and enterprise initiatives in many UAE schools. takes a look at some of the schools coaching, guiding and nurturing tomorrow's leaders.
UAE Schools Nurturing Innovators, Entrepreneurs
By Jenny Mollon
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Schools all over the UAE are looking to harness the energy, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of their students with innovative enterprise initiatives. Whilst we believe that hard work, knowledge and efficiency will always be essential to career success, our young people are looking out into a world of work that is changing faster than ever before. With almost every industry seeing functional tasks stream-lined by automation, the ‘soft skills’ or personal characteristics of confidence, resilience, tenacity, problem solving and creativity may well be what sets the next generation on the path to fulfilling their potential.

With ‘success’ in embedding these soft skills perhaps more challenging for schools to measure than traditional exam and assessment data, we decided to speak to several schools to see what they are doing in the area of ‘Enterprise Education’ to facilitate the career and business dreams of their students.

What is Enterprise Education?

Enterprise Education centres on helping young people to acquire entrepreneurial and career skills before they enter the world of work. In particular, Enterprise Education encompasses an understanding of finance, economics and business as well as the acquisition of skills needed to create a business or to successfully secure a job in one. In some schools, we found that ‘enterprise’ harnesses business, design technology, IT - and any other subject that facilitates the growth of, impact on, or entrance into a business.

Typically, Enterprise initiatives in schools encourage students to problem solve, adapt, communicate and collaborate. In doing so, young people may become better leaders, better at time management and develop the determination and resilience that they might one day need to build a business - inside a large company, or on their own.

Schools are expanding their curricula to help innovation to flourish. Increasingly, we see schools presenting students with a broad range of vocational options at Post-16 (BTEC Enterprise and Entrepreneurship and BTEC Business Studies are popular options in many UAE schools) or building their own Enterprise curriculum that begins right from the primary school years.

Each school has their own unique way of encouraging enterprise. We spoke to several to find out their take on how to make Enterprise a living and vibrant part of today's curriculum.

The Junior MBA

Navin Valrani, CEO of Arcadia School is a passionate believer in the power of changing the world through enterprise. So much so, he has introduced his very own Junior MBA programme which all Arcadia students follow from Year 3 and up. But why start a Junior MBA and what does the programme entail?

“The programme officially starts in Year 3 and our overarching aim is to dig deep into the entrepreneurial mindset. I say officially, as we have had such great enthusiasm for the Junior MBA, we now have a Junior MBA elective for Years 1 and 2. The creativity of our younger students is just incredible. I often look at what they are doing and think – I want to go and start that business!

An enterprising young student at Arcadia School

“There are four key traits we seek to build in every single Arcadian. Creative problem solving, opportunity seeking, resiliency and resourcefulness. We try to foster these traits in all four of the modules of the Junior MBA.

The first module, in Year 3 is one where we look at idea generation.  I’m a big believer in the power of a name, so we look at business names, logo creation, slogans and jingles. In Year 4, we deep dive into marketing and the marketing mix. Our children come to understand how important the ‘signals’ we send to customers are. We include a couple of sessions on the relative value of currencies and money. The module is also a great time to teach children about how companies target populations via social media. It’s so important they understand that.

“Next, in Year 5 it is time to look at Finance and Fundraising. We look at all sorts of things from the difference between commercial and Islamic banking to borrowing from friends and family and the tensions that can bring. We also look at stock markets. We go into my own stock market account live on screen and buy shares in companies like Microsoft or EA Games. We also explore crowdfunding.

“The final module is probably the most technical, accounting. We cover this in Year 6 and help children develop an understanding of profit and loss, balance sheets, assets and equity.

“As we move into the secondary school, we have partnered with the Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership at a school in the US named Springside Chestnut High. We have a broad programme where our students look at everything from podcasting to presentation skills, coding, app development, engineering and robotics. We encourage them to look at everything they do through the lens of social entrepreneurship. Their work culminates with a capstone project in Year 11, where students will present a real business plan in front of real investors".

The Award Winning Young Entrepreneurs

Students at Kent College Dubai have been celebrating winning the Key Stage 3 award in the International Division of the Peter Jones ‘Tycoon Enterprise’ competition. Jane Barker, Head of Business at the school, spoke proudly of the winning business, Splash of Culture, which she commended for being not only successful but for being firmly rooted in social enterprise. The students behind the business sourced jewellery from Bosnia and South Africa and clothing from Bali for an enterprise designed to help bring cultures from around the world together.

Innovation isn’t limited to secondary students at KCD. Even the Foundation Stage students have incorporated some entrepreneurialism into their learning by creating bags to sell at the schools’ Market Day. Gerard Lavelle, Head of Innovation at KCD, tells us that students as young as Year 5 begin looking at marketing, sales and budgets but that younger children often have terrific ideas.

“Entrepreneurialism is all about having that creative spark, and that is really at the heart of what we are trying to do here at KCD. Go to our Year 2 children and they’ll give you the most amazing ideas, the rest will follow! Honestly, with those soft skills the earlier you start, the better”.

Mrs Barker and Mr Lavelle joke about their plans for a “Kent-erprise Room” for burgeoning businesses in the school and local community. Gerard Lavelle, Head of Innovation, Kent College Dubai:

“We’re not sure the name should stick”... but we really hope that once current restrictions lift a little we can open up a dedicated space not only for our students’ businesses but also for those in our local community. We know there are a lot of small business in Meydan South, it would be great to give those parents and local people a platform for their products". 

Overall, Mrs Barker and Mr Lavelle agree at the core of the school’s approach to enterprise is helping students to understand their passions. Among many others, last year saw Kent College Dubai students propose businesses as diverse taking food waste from hotels and turning it into bio-fuel, to an app that helps talented young sports people connect online with professional scouts, safely.

“These initiatives are so important” enthused Mrs Barker, “because they help our students develop the confidence to go out into the world and think ‘I can do that’. That is what it is all about”.

The Whole School Approach to Enterprise

At Kings’ School Al Barsha, Reena Oates, Head of Vocational Studies explained how strong relationships with the primary phase of the school is helping to create a strong culture of enterprise.

“Our youngest students are really creative and they love collaborating with older students. Last year our youngest students were given 10 AED each and challenged to see what they could make to sell. Wherever possible we ask our students to think about the National Agenda and put a sustainable slant on their projects…Our youngest children really came good with the idea of making and decorating lovely plant pots for sale. Our older primary students had the “Little Eco Wheels” team, who made brilliant cars out of bamboo. They really were enterprising…they had the idea then used all their resilience and perseverance to ‘gently encourage’ the secondary Design Technology teachers to make them for them!”

Little Eco Wheels!

Kings' School Al Barsha also use the Tycoon Enterprise competition from the Peter Jones Foundation as a way to challenge and encourage young entrepreneurs. Last year, the school were delighted to be the winners in the Key Stage 5 international competition. Sadly, the students were not able to travel to the UK for the awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace, but Mrs Oates and the team are busy thinking of creative ways to celebrate their success whilst working around social distancing restrictions.

“Our students came up with the idea of a magnetic board that you can throw your keys or wallet at as you walk through the door. Each item was 200 AED which I thought was quite steep! But they were confident and sourced the product, made a financial plan and were incredibly successful. This year, we’ll be entering the competition again, but working around Covid-19 restrictions.  There will be lots of e-commerce and linking with established business and entrepreneurs via webinars and digital seminars.

“We’re also really proud to offer a BTEC Business Studies alongside traditional academic options. Our BTEC students all have the opportunity to start and run their own businesses as part of the course Reena Oates, Head of Vocational Studies, Kings’ Al Barsha

Academic and Vocational Routes into Enterprise

At Dubai English Speaking College, (DESC) Matthew Davies, Director of Vocational Education tells us that students can choose subjects traditionally linked to enterprise (such as A Level Business or Economics) or those wanting a more hands on and vocational post-16 course can choose to study for a BTEC in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.

This course comprises of a series of mandatory and optional units, leaving students with a solid grounding for future success. Mandatory units include; The Innovative Entrepreneur, Business Planning and Pitching, Financial Planning and Implementation, Launching your Business Vision and Leadership and Teamwork.

A (pre Covid-19) enterprise event at DESC

In order to complete these and their chosen optional units, BTEC students must create and run a ‘micro-business’ and contextualise almost all their studies into the operation of the business. The school gives each business a grant of 1000 AED and opens a banking facility for them. All large purchases must be given the green light by teachers, but other than that, students are free to run their business independently.

“We’ve had all sorts of ventures in the past. Customised sunglasses, food and beverages, car valet services, phone accessories and more. It’s such terrific experience for our students. Some teams work well together, some don’t. That’s a lesson in itself! The students encounter loads of challenges and have to overcome them, just as they would in the real world. What they learn from running their own business at this age is absolutely invaluable”. Matthew Davies, Dubai English Speaking College

The school creates opportunities for enterprise across the age groups and linked to many areas of the curriculum. One reason for this is to create an interest in enterprise and business for younger students as well as to attract more girls into studying enterprise related subjects in the schools’ sixth form.

For DESC Year 10 students, there is a Dragons Den style competition which, in times more normal times would culminates in special event hosted in the theatre of the nearby Emirates Aviation College.

“We get in some really high-profile judges” said Mr Davies “…and it’s quite tough! It really mirrors the show and in doing so raises the profile of enterprise in the school".

Where Enterprise meets Innovation and STEAM

Nord Anglia International School Dubai (NAS Dubai) has a long standing and successful link with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a world renown American university, widely known for its innovation and academic strength. The NAS Dubai/MIT programme sees students of all ages embark on real-world challenges across the subjects of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM), all designed to help children build flexibility, creativity and communication.

Elfyn Jones, Head of Innovation at NAS Dubai spoke to to help us to understand the schools’ exciting approach to enterprise and innovation.

“Last year, our MIT programme saw us looking at the topic ‘Picture of Heath’. In school, we had students working on pilot projects to make wearable tech.

"As a school, we have created a new department ‘Computational Design Thinking’ which encompasses Computer Science, Business Studies and Design Technology. This means that our students could design the product, code the software and create a business around it all under one subject area. We’ve found that bringing these subject areas together really helps students to find their niche and make good decisions at the end of Year 8 for their GCSE options.

“This year, our link with MIT will see us look at the International Space Station and how products from Earth can be adapted for use in space. These projects start with our secondary students but we also roll them out into our primary phase so that our students are better prepared when the come to secondary. Every year it gets better and better! We also make sure that every student gets to take part in our annual ‘Change Makers’ week, where we collapse the timetable and give our students STEAM challenges to work on.

"We work with other schools when it comes to innovation too.  Last year, we hosted a multi school STEAM Festival, which was an amazing event attended by lots of local schools. We’ll be looking at different ways of doing things this year but we’ll still be making sure our students have plenty of opportunity to be enterprising and to innovate and create”.

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