Inspiring Women in Education, Hind Al Mualla

Emirati Hind Al Mualla, is Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s (KHDA) Chief of Creativity, Happiness and Innovation. She is also one of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's Inspiring Women in Education.
Inspiring Women in Education, Hind Al Mualla
By Jenny Mollon
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With an incredible job title and job description that spans a hugely pressing brief; the future of education in the UAE and the happiness and wellbeing of the children in education today, Hind is an Inspiring Woman busy leading other Educators to challenge the status quo. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com set out to discover where her strength comes from...

Hind, who or what inspired you to get into education?

[Laughing]  Honestly, that is a very interesting question!  When I was choosing my career, well, if you were a woman in the UAE, then education was really the only path open for you and the only thing your family would approve of.  So it was kind of 'pre-set' in my case.  That said, if I had had a choice, it would have been education anyway – so I have been lucky in that way! 

The world is very different for young Emirati women today.  I recommend they choose whatever career they will bring value to in one way or another.  Whatever it is, it must just make their heart sing!  That is the most important thing.

When I think about the kind of teacher I wanted to be, I always think of my secondary school Biology teacher, she was a huge influence on me.  Her class was always the one that I wanted to attend, the one where I didn’t feel the time passing at all.  When I became a teacher [Hind taught IT, Business, Instructional Technology and Multimedia], I always tried to think about how that teacher would have made it fun.

Can you describe your career so far?

I had been teaching in secondary schools, and in Higher Technology colleges in Sharjah, for some time when I was invited to join a project called the ‘IT Education Project’.

This was one of the many initiatives instigated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and it was focused on bringing IT into schools and classrooms.  I remember clearly that I didn’t really want to leave my teaching position, so I thought, ‘ok, here is a small project, I will go for a few months and if it doesn’t work out I can always go back!’  This was the agreement I had. 

A year later, my school called me again, but by then there was no going back!  I worked on more and more projects like it and, eventually, I joined the KHDA.  I have been with KHDA since it began. It has been a wonderful journey so far.

How would you describe your role at the KHDA?

My role gathers together anything that doesn’t really fit our ‘business as usual’ working structure. 

Five years ago there were a lot of grey areas around what happiness in education is. We have worked hard to change that with initiatives such as our annual Wellbeing Survey.  It is much clearer today. 

Now we have standards, measures and plans available to us.  Five years ago we thought – what is happiness in education?  How do we go about making sure it happens for all children?  Now we have a much better idea of where we are and where we need to go.

The future of my role continues to evolve.  I am always planning and always looking at ways in which education should move forward and improve.

Do you feel like women working in education have a particular set of challenges?

Well, I have been through recruitment processes where the hiring panel have all been male.  I can see how some women would find that intimidating, but to be honest with you, it wasn’t a challenge for me. I am comfortable with who I am. 

I feel quite privileged to be from the UAE because the challenges women face in many other countries, we haven’t faced here.  The leadership of the UAE makes it clear that it is important to have women in senior roles in every area of life. 

That said, we are in many ways sheltered and that is a double edged sword.  Being sheltered can make you wonder whether you are up to challenges! This is not just in education, it in every discipline.

Was there a single moment that changed your outlook or career path?

My career has progressed incrementally.  When you start out, it is easy to think that your way is the only way!  But then you read, you visit different schools and you meet new teachers.  I also went overseas for my postgraduate degree which brought all sorts of new ideas. 

Right now there are some big questions facing everyone in education.  I think I am very fortunate to be part of a team that is asking the big questions.  For example, does learning have to be the same number of hours every day, every week; does teaching always have to take place in a classroom?   

We are putting these questions to parents and schools and saying, if you don’t agree, let’s look at changing these things.

Are your goals today the same as when your career started out?

No!  Not at all! My goals are completely different.  They have changed so much.  When I started out in education, I thought everything was black and white.  If you don’t fit into black, you fit into the white.  There was no grey in my mind! 

So now my main goal is just to learn, to learn as much as I can all the time.   It’s also important to make that learning count both for me and all those around me.

Do you feel like the next generation of educators have any specific challenges ahead?  What advice do you have for them?

There will always be challenges.  That doesn’t change.

I’m quite impressed by the energy, creativity and passion young teachers and teachers in general bring to the field and proud to be working with such professionals.

If someone gave me some advice when I was starting my career I am not sure I would have listened!  Not at all!  So for younger educators I would just say be open, be open as much as you can, and always have empathy.  I think that is the best advice I can give.

Who supports you and how?

My family, my friends and my colleagues.  Though sometimes that support does vary!  I come from a very traditional Emirati family and, well, there were rules.  I have broken most of those rules! 

So the support comes in many different ways.  Mostly, for me, from being challenged by the important people in my life.  My family and friends would say “you know, if you really want to do this it will not be easy.  Once you get there, then you need to stick with it because nothing good is ever easy”.

My colleagues at the KHDA are amazing, it is such a special organisation.  We are a very diverse group. I know I am so lucky to be working with people who come from different parts of the world with so many different experiences. 

When you broke the rules – how did your family and friends react?

[Laughing!] They just had to live with it!  But it has all worked out for the best, and now I guess they are proud of the things I have done.

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