UAE's Student Teachers: New Talent, Fresh Ideas

We believe that one of the hallmarks of a ‘mature’ education sector is to see schools nurturing new talent in the form of student teachers. Schools and students alike benefit from the new ideas and energy of those with the ambition and determination to enter the teaching profession.
UAE's Student Teachers: New Talent, Fresh Ideas
By Jenny Mollon
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Here in the UAE, options for qualifying as a teacher had, up until recently, been fairly limited. The tide is changing however, with The University of Birmingham in Dubai now offering students the opportunity to complete an internationally recognised Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PCGE) right here in the UAE.

What is it like to be a student teacher in Dubai? How welcoming are our schools to student teachers and what impact are they having in class?

We interviewed Malika Chandoo, Mathematics Teacher at Repton School Dubai and 2019 PGCE Graduate of the University of Birmingham, Dubai to find out.  

Malika, what made you decide to embark on a new career in teaching?

I studied at Oxford University in the UK.  In my first career, I put my Mathematics degree to use as a Chartered Accountant. Later, and like many expat women, I arrived in the UAE as a trailing spouse to my husband and his job.

I gave up my career for a time, which meant I had the freedom to spend some years at home with my two children. But when my youngest started his A Levels, and his brother had left for university, it made me think. What do I want to do with the rest of my life?

I thought long and hard about where my passions lay and eventually I was able to be clear about two very important things…working with numbers and working with young people.

I have had a very blessed life, and I realised that teaching is a way that I can help young people write the story of their own lives. At the end of the day, if I can inspire people to be the best versions of themselves…well, what a good way to spend my days!

What was it that appealed to you about doing your PCGE here in Dubai?

I think the fact that it was on the ground, it was face to face and not online or distance learning. I knew the programme at Birmingham was KHDA approved and that I would be put into good local schools to gain my teaching practice. It was a practical, vocational experience that lead to an internationally recognised qualification…and it was really exciting!

How did you find going back to University after a career and raising a family?

Well, first of all I thought I would be the only mature student! I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were a lot of people in the same boat as me. In my cohort, there were plenty of people entering their second careers, even third careers. The average age of the secondary cohort was over 30, which meant I could bond and study with people with similar life experiences.

Malika in action at Repton School Dubai

I’m still in touch with many of my fellow student teachers. Not everyone has sought or managed to get a job, yet.

The experience of job hunting here brought home to me that some schools won’t even consider you without school work experience. I think that is a shame. For those of us on second and third careers, we bring to teaching valuable life and career experience to our students.

As an example, I speak 7 languages [Malika speaks English, French, Arabic, Farsi, Swahili, Guajarati and Urdu]. This gives me an automatic connection to so many of the students at a school like Repton, which is very diverse. So whilst I may not have had years of teaching experience, I still had many useful skills to bring to the school.

What did you learn about UAE education by qualifying as a teacher here?

I think the most important thing was how diverse education is in the UAE. I think we have 17 different curriculums, which is incredible!

Birmingham has aligned their programme with both UAE and UK standards, so as a student you are encouraged to learn about some of the other options that are available as a part of the course. It’s fascinating…such an eye opener.

The other thing I learnt was just how aspirational and ambitious the UAE is when it comes to education. It’s clear that the UAE government are really committed to education and understand what great education means for society as a whole.

What were the challenges of returning to study?

Well [Malika laughs] ...I quickly realised what all teachers know...The fact is as a teacher, you’re not just a teacher, you’re an administrator, a Mum, a nanny, a plate juggler, a cleaner and a nurse. Realising all that was a little like “WOAH” at first!  Once you’ve managed all that, then you finally do the teaching part.

In terms of study, the PCGE course is very, very hard work, as any teacher will tell you. When out on teaching practice, I’d put all my energy into teaching a full day, then come home and have to study or prepare for the next day. That said, when you see children enjoying a lesson, it all coming together, it makes all the hard work worth it.

Now it’s done, I’m so thankful to have achieved my PCGE and to be working in a school like Repton.

What are your ambitions for the future?

For now, I just really want to bed down my classroom practice. I want to be the best Maths teacher I can be! The future? My philosophy is that if you try to be the best you can be, you will see the doors will open for you. I say to my students “work hard, play hard, pray hard”. You have to have that balance and that’s something I am always working towards in my own life.

We asked David Cook, Principal of Repton School Dubai, to tell us about the impact Malika and her fellow student and newly qualified teachers are making in the classrooms at Repton.

“Teacher recruitment and teacher shortages in core subjects are a growing challenge that all schools and countries are facing. At Repton, we have found that creative partnerships between schools and universities are helping bridge the teacher-shortage gap, particularly in subjects such as Maths, English and the Sciences.

In Malika’s case, a hugely talented and able professional, Malika decided to retrain as a Maths teacher, a subject she studied at undergraduate level at Oxford.  With such a strong academic and professional pedigree, Repton is delighted to support Malika as a newly qualified teacher, and help her excel in her new profession.  As a teacher, Malika is showing significant promise and progress”.

Reflecting the positive feedback from Mr Cook; Sanam Yaqub, Schools Partnerships Strategies Manager at The University of Birmingham had this to say about Malika's student teacher experience in Dubai,

“The team at The University of Birmingham are delighted to see Malika teaching at Repton School Dubai. The School of Education are looking forward to seeing many more University of Birmingham qualified teachers working in schools across the UAE. We are immensely proud to enable others with an opportunity to enter the profession of teaching and transform the lives of young people."

We would love to hear more experiences of student teachers working in Dubai. Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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