Op Ed by: Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of Aldar Academies
Describing the UAE a “melting pot” of cultural diversity would not be a myth. With more than 200 nationalities, the UAE is one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries. The impact of globalisation on Abu Dhabi’s society brings many positive benefits and our progress on many levels is very evident. Amid the pace of progress, however, it would be very easy for the people of the Emirates to get swept away from their own cultural roots.
With so much influence from other cultures, the Arab-Islamic identity could easily be diluted. We live in a country that has a global culture. As can easily be observed, the size of the expatriate workforce has created something of a demographic imbalance in which Emiratis are very much in the minority in the UAE, a situation which risks having a major impact on our Emirati cultural identity.
Safeguarding our Emirati values, customs, traditions, language and national personality so that future generations of UAE Nationals understand their unique identity is critical if we are to avoid a situation where the children of the future do not know who they are or where they come from.
The social and economic development framework of the UAE on its journey to becoming a sustainable, knowledge-based economy is focused upon transforming the people of the UAE into cultured and skillful individuals. Empowering Emiratis for the future requires a focus on the development of the ‘whole individual’ – from first steps until retirement.
As educators, we have a central role in supporting the preservation of the UAE’s national heritage and promoting our national identity, culture and character. Private schools in the UAE have been criticized for not providing sufficient cultural teaching. Since the launch of Aldar Academies, we have worked hard to develop a learning environment that provides young minds with a comprehensive, well-rounded education with an international dimension adapted to the needs of students living in the UAE.
This naturally includes a strong focus on the elements that makes the UAE culturally distinct, which is crucial for helping today's generation prepare for tomorrow.
Our students enjoy the advantage of a diverse, creative and robust teaching and learning programme in Arabic language and Islamic studies. There has been a recognition over recent years that teaching of the UAE’s history – both in public and private schools – can be improved work is being done in our schools to tackle this issue. We believe it is important that they understand what has taken place in this country, and how past generations were able to cope with life here. To quote the Late Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE, “He who does not know his past will certainly not understand the present. If a man knows the past, he will understand the present also, and on that basis find out what lies in the future."
Of particular focus is the teaching and promotion of the Arabic language. The wide use of English in most private education institutions is driven by a strong connection to the global economy, job market and technology. But language is an important safeguard of national culture and we are most concerned in developing world-leading learning programmes for Arabic.
Last month, we hosted tour first Arabic Conference, in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Education Council and under the patronage of H. H. Sheikha Al Yazia Bint Saif Bin Muhammad Al Nahyan. This focused on Arabic’s role in national and cultural identity and curriculum development and we were delighted to welcome experts from a range of social and educational disciplines to engage in this most important discussion.
Within our six schools, Arabic language initiatives include the development of teaching materials that engage students at all levels. This is not just limited to our own students: during the last half-term at Al Ain International School we ran free Arabic classes to both native and non-native speakers covering written and conversational Arabic taught by two teachers from our Arabic department. The classes ran twice a day, three days a week over a three-week period and were open to the public, as well as pupils at Al Ain International School.
We always look to develop and maintain excellent relationships with parents and the communities in which we operate in order to create an environment where students from diverse cultures and backgrounds feel a true sense of belonging. We place great importance on working with the families of our students and take pride in offering open two-way communication with parents who can contact our schools at any time to check on the progress of their child. We are honoured with the responsibility of educating and preparing the leaders of tomorrow. But to help them get there requires educators to not only set them the target, but to give them the foundations of knowledge, culture and identity that can help them understand why that target matters.