As CEO of Aldar Academies, Nilay occupies a hugely important position in the Abu Dhabi education scene. As one of a few women to lead an education organisation in the purportedly not for profit division of Aldar Properties (a semi-govenment organisation) she has overseen the raising of standards and the expansion of the Aldar Academies brand.
With two new schools including the first US curriculum West Yas Academy and an All Girls Secondary at Al Mamoura Academy opening in 2016/17, Aldar Academies has grown from one 247-student facility in 2007 into a range of highly sought after institutions supporting over 5,000 pupils across six academies in Abu Dhabi and one in Al Ain.
With the achievement of the highest possible Outstanding rating following inspections by ADEC at two of the five established schools (Al Bateen Academy and Al Muna Academy), Nilay has ensured that the focus on excellence is clearly being implemented throughout the network.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
I’ve been here since 2010, and started off supporting Aldar Properties’ broad portfolio. Aldar Academies was a part of this, and in 2013, I focused my full attention on the education arm.
What made you choose the education sector?
Being with Aldar Properties, I was able to oversee a number of different areas like hotels, golf courses, and marinas, and education was another that had huge potential. I saw the massive opportunity we had to boost private education in Abu Dhabi, and make the organization a more effective educator. I knew I could do more if I focused all my effort just on Aldar Academies, which is why I took over in 2013.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
Education is growing fast in the UAE, which means there have been growing pains. Some parents unfortunately have to choose convenience over quality when picking a new school, and recruitment is another challenge.
Many of our teachers come from the UK, where fewer people are choosing to study primary education. Demand is higher for those who do arrive here looking to teach, but we’re confident we can continue attracting this talent, because our opportunities are so great. We put our teachers on a clear development path where they can expand their skills through Continuous Professional Development programmes and even Masters Degrees.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
That’s a tough question – there have been many! The moment our schools received an “outstanding” rating from Abu Dubai Education Council was one of the most satisfying milestones. We got there through excellent teachers who never stop learning, and an investment in some amazing technology for the classrooms, which are both significant achievements on their own.
Another important step was when we brought in performance management tools to help teachers measure their skills and success. Similarly, we also created internal teams to work closely with individual schools and see where improvements can be made. As an educator we’re all about the growth of knowledge and ability. These two milestones make sure this happens for us personally, as well as our students.
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
I’d have to say helping to build our one brand, simply because of how significant it for us as an organization and our students, first and foremost. It helped us become stronger together by bringing every academy closer so we could share knowledge and resources, benchmark our students’ success, and make sure the Aldar Academies standard was upheld.
One of our biggest challenges during this time was to make sure each school’s creativity wasn’t stifled by being part of a ‘one brand’ philosophy, but I’m confident we’ve overcome this. Every academy must uphold our five values of excellence, creativity, passion, collaboration, and respect each day, but we give them the freedom to interpret these values however they want.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
The first has to be seeing our students develop as people, whether they’re celebrating exam results, showing great passion during events like the recent National Day celebration, or making the school proud on a sports team. The second would be the development of our teachers, and how they’re blossoming as professionals. It’s impossible to overstate how important they are to us.
The third is simply passion. I love what I do, and use that passion to make sure we stay at the top of the game.
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
I want our recent growth to continue, and help our culture to develop. We want teachers to see Aldar Academies as a place where they have a long term future; where they can constantly learn and achieve great things in their career.
When I leave, I want to look back and see that we’re on a solid foundation, which is made of our students’ success.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
To have purpose in everything you do, both in your personal and professional lives. This gives you direction to work towards a goal, and helps you stay organized as you do.
I also think it’s crucial to be able to see ‘the bigger picture’. Our day-to-day lives can be incredibly busy, but it‘s valuable to sometimes take a step back and really think about what the objective is. Ask yourself: what is it I really want to achieve here? Then, it becomes easier to figure out the smaller details that lead to success.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
The children, without doubt. It’s hugely rewarding to see their results, watch them perform creatively and witness their personal development knowing you helped provide this opportunity. And this carries on after they’ve left us. It’s wonderful to hear which university they’ve moved on to, and how they’re shaping the world in a unique way.