Leading a school of over 8,000 girls, which continually tops the GEMS UAE CBSE results table, would seem a daunting enough managerial task for most educators, yet for Asma Gilani this is merely one aspect of her demanding job.
For Gilani, OOEHS is not only about outstanding CBSE results, it’s also about nurturing and encouraging strong, resilient and resourceful Indian women via programmes such as her Personal and Universal Life Skills Education (PULSE) programme- ready for everything the 21st century has in store.
In addition to the numerous (and highly successful) co-curricular sports, arts and drama programmes at OOEHS, Giliani has also created various initiatives to introduce ‘her girls,’ and more importantly, their families (some of which have little or no education themselves), to consider careers outside of the traditional STEM subjects.
Gilani is not only a fierce ‘new wave’ female educator intent on preparing Indian women for the 21st century, but she sets about the application with passion, yet at the same time she remains continually aware of both her parents’ cultural norms and those of the wider Sharjah community.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
What made you choose the education sector?
Looking back at the years, I feel teaching came very naturally to me. I grew up in an intellectually charged environment where vibrant and enlightened educators and thinkers discussed global issues, current affairs and education in a very open and informal social context. I always felt the passion, exuberance and life in those conversations. Though the field of education is challenging it is exciting and infinitely rewarding. There is so much in it… collaboration, integration, innovation which leads to new learning each day. It is the literal ‘Open Sesame” for change and progress.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
Recruitment and retention of qualified and competent teachers is a perennial concern. It is extremely difficult for the school management to find and train new staff every few years as the new recruits take time to adjust to the new country, its culture and educational set up.
Teachers have limited understanding of special educational needs of children. Though Individualised Education Programs (IEPs) and Individual Accommodation Plans (IAPs) are designed, we need to create more awareness of the range of learning difficulties teachers may meet in schools and equip them to use alternative strategies.
Instead of a standalone session, teacher training programmes must be an ongoing process to improve the quality of teaching. As educators we must demonstrate a commitment and appetite to train our teachers on current pedagogy to hone their skills and develop knowledge which will facilitate learning in diverse classrooms.
It is indeed a formidable challenge for the teachers to balance teaching with their own learning to keep pace with the children who are fully aware of the latest apps and wizards available online. With innovative changes happening in the educational industry and world of information available at the click of the mouse, it is essential for the teachers to acquire technical skills to integrate technology in classroom teaching to embed 21st century skills in children.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
Appointment as head of a large school was a major milestone in my professional life. Ever since there has only been miles of smiles for all of us at school.
Though we have consistently produced excellent academic results, this year we broke our own record of 63 students who scored a perfect CGPA of 10 in 2015 to almost double with 121 students who scored a CGPA of 10 in 2016 in grade 10 In addition we topped UAE in Grade 12 commerce stream for the third consecutive year.
The year 2013 was remarkable since we were the first Indian school to receive the prestigious ‘Shiekh Khalifa Award for Education in the Educational and Institutional Performance category. The students of OOEHS have consistently excelled in various fields over the years and the Khalifa Award for Education is a richly deserved recognition of the efforts of all the students and teachers who have always made an endeavor to pursue excellence as is evident by the awards received by the school and students which include:
Set up of ‘The Innovation Studio’ is another landmark in the history of our school. It was designed to encourage students to find better ways of doing things. The studio aims to create unique learning experiences for students, where they can trace their own learning paths using a range of resources to develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills .
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date – and why?
My greatest achievement is the open and conducive environment which is visible in the school. Nothing can be more exhilarating than to see our students epitomise the vision of the school, “Striving towards excellence… seeking new horizons for personal growth and worth.” They are confident in their own identities, make ethical decisions and are prepared to apply what they learn, in real world’s complex situations.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
Ever changing educational landscape, students’ sharp and keen intellect, their healthy curiosity, their unquenchable thirst for knowledge and innovation, undoubtedly keeps me motivated and charged at all times.
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
With a winning combination of academics, co-curricular activities and sound values, I hope to see increased number of children able to find a strong foothold into the future ; well equipped to adapt to the rapidly changing world, able to thrive on competitions and challenges and yet be anchored to the core values.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
Life is a continuous journey of transformation so embrace the uncertainty of the future, be in charge, be in control and make your own way to success.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
It is the feeling of togetherness and cooperation with which we work, a tremendous amount of satisfaction in achieving the mark which becomes more meaningful since every member contributes towards the growth of the school infused with enthusiasm and renewed vigour. Being an integral part of the vivacious and exuberant, vibrant entity which pulsates within the school walls is definitely the most enjoyable aspect of working in the field of education.
Above all… nothing in the world can match up to the joy of being the recipient of a wide front–teeth-missing grin and a heartfelt good morning as you enter the school to begin your day!