The UAE's Education Influencers, 2017 launches its very first educational influencers for 2017. Through their hard-work and pioneering initiatives these individuals share one thing in common - they are all shaping and changing the UAE's education landscape for the better...
The UAE's Education Influencers, 2017
By C Hoppe
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Isobel Abulhoul

Over the past 40 years in the UAE, Abulhoul has worn many hats; OBE, teacher, educator, entrepreneur, visionary, founder of schools, festivals and foundations, CEO and director.

Yet, every title she has held links directly back to education and more specifically- encouraging and driving a love of reading in the UAE. Her Magrudy’s Bookstore provided expats with a place where they could browse and buy the latest novels whilst purchasing revision guides for their children at the same time.

Today, she is most well-known as director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and CEO of the Emirates Literature Foundation. She has placed education at the very heart of both entities, with the Emirates Lit Fest now one of the foremost cultural events in the Middle East.

More recently, she created Education Day and exposed tens of thousands of children across all ages and curricula to some of the world's foremost authors. 


How long have you worked in the UAE? 
I arrived in the UAE in 1968 and began work as a teacher in 1969, at the Dubai Infants School. Since that time apart from a brief spell when the first two of my children were very little, I have worked, but co-founding Magrudy’s in 1975, meant I was lucky enough to be able to juggle family and work, and that was very important for me.

What made you choose the education sector?
I love children, and intuitively have always felt that reading for pleasure is vital. It has been rewarding to learn that the latest statistics have borne this out, showing children who are read to, and who read for pleasure on a regular basis, outperform their peers, across the  learning spectrum, are more empathetic and  more tolerant. Books open doors on to the world and beyond.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
I think that there is a fine line between providing the best that education has to offer and making a profit. I can see that the best education providers in the UAE manage that balance extremely well, but I would always  want to be aware of the  challenge, and possible conflict, that providing an excellent education and being as profitable as possible can bring. 

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

  • Helping found the Al Ittihad Private School in 1975
  • Co-Founding Magrudy’s in 1975, and Jerboa Books in 2002
  • Founding the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in 2008
  • Being appointed one of the trustees of the Emirates Literature Foundation in 2013, and being selected as the CEO of the  Foundation.
  • Receiving public recognition for the work that I have undertaken in promoting education and reading from HH Dr Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah, HM Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, The Al Owais Foundation, and the UAE 2016 Pioneers Award.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
The educational programme during the annual literary festival which impacts positively on a large number of students, across curricula, and nationalities.  Inspirational authors from around the globe have spoken to tens of thousands of students each year, and have encouraged them to pick up a book and read. I believe this will start the process for those students of a lifelong love affair with books. 

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
My three grandsons who have proven to me time and again, that life is to be enjoyed to the full. The knowledge that my job is never done. Discovering a new writer, a new book, a new idea!

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
I would like to take time to learn Arabic properly. Whilst I speak Arabic, I know I would benefit hugely from understanding better the language as a whole.

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
For anyone wishing to succeed in life, focus on your passion and your dreams. Each of us is capable of making the world a better place, so live your dreams, be prepared to work hard, and adapt and find solutions, never problems.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
Children are the future and if we can allow them to learn with enjoyment, enthusiasm, and wonder, then they will succeed. As adults, they will carry the beacon for their children. Every child has the right to a good education and access to books. Until that happens, no one should rest easy.

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