The UAE's Educational Influencers 2018

If you want to know who has made the biggest impact on education in the UAE over the last year, read on for's Most Influential People within education in 2018.
The UAE's Educational Influencers 2018
By C Hoppe
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Campaigners and Advocates would like to recognise those who work tirelessly in their efforts to help others!

Throughout the education sector, there are many who give their time, their money and their expertise in their drive to help others. This year, we celebrate eight women who make it their mission to give back, give a voice to those without and whose aim it is, to help others succeed.


Joanne Butcher: Kids Kingdom IMPZ and EYFS Professionals UAE

Nursery Manager Joanne founded and devotes much of her spare time to moderating 'EYFS Professionals UAE,' a thriving and highly active online community of nearly 2000 Early Years teachers and professionals across the UAE. 

The group has become the go to place in the Emirates for sharing of ideas, best practice and industry news.  Even more, 'EYFS Professionals UAE' has become the recruitment space for Early Years workers in the UAE, sidelining some of the more traditional avenues and providing recruiters and job seekers with quick and easy access to one another.


How long have you worked in the UAE?

I moved to the UAE almost 12-years ago with my family from the UK.  I studied my higher education at GEMS Wellington International School, with the plan of staying just two-years and then moving on. I ended up staying a lot longer than intended and began my career working in a nursery as an assistant over eight-years ago, this is where I began to study my first qualification and worked at the same time.

Twelve-years later and I couldn't imagine living anywhere else, living here in Dubai has been a fantastic opportunity for me and with lots of dedication and challenging work, is becoming the city where dreams can come true.

What made you choose the Early Years sector?

From an early age I have always loved being around children. While growing up I spent my free time babysitting and caring for them. During my secondary education I spent my 'free periods' helping in my school’s primary section. I am a strong believer that how a child is taught and influenced at an early age will mold their future, including their interest to learn and achieve as they grow up, even in their adulthood. Once I began working in the EY Sector, I found it extremely rewarding. Every day is exciting, challenging but extremely enjoyable, I couldn't imagine and wouldn't want to do anything else.

How do you see the Early Years industry evolving over the next three years?

The pace and development of Early Years Education in the UAE has picked up very quickly in the last few years, the demand for Early Years Education is at a high and now parents are developing a stronger understanding of the importance of the first few years of their children's lives. Many parents are now putting their children into settings to develop their social skills, communication & language and other key skills.  I can see more people respecting and understanding the importance of us and what we all do together to educate their children. I believe that as of now this understanding is still developing, however with more networking and strong Early Years leaders and influencers, we can build a stronger partnership with parents in the UAE over the upcoming years.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?

 I believe that currently sharing best practice is still lacking in the Early Years sector. This is one of the main reasons I decided to create a place where we can all get together, discuss, debate and share ideas. My aim when creating the Facebook group 'EYFS Professionals UAE' was to build a community for Early Years Professionals to build partnerships and work together, continuing their professional development and of course, to make new friends with similar interests!

Currently, one of my biggest challenges in the industry is gaining an understanding of the requirements and guidelines provided when you are running a setting here in the UAE. Being a fast-developing country, the regulations are also still developing. At times, there are gaps between regulatory bodies, and with so many being involved it can sometimes result in regulations being miscommunicated. With a huge amount of Early Years Settings now in the UAE, all in different stages of development, the guidelines set out to us need to be clearer, helping all of us all grow and meet these new standards.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

My career has moved at a fast pace since I joined the industry. I started working in the Early Years after finishing my A-Levels with GEMS, working full time for the first time as a teaching assistant, during this time, I worked along side some fantastic teachers who mentored, motivated and believed in me.

Studying as I worked, I shortly qualified to be an EYFS Teacher/practitioner here in the UAE. The setting I was working in then promoted me into the Teacher/Curriculum Coordinator position where I implemented the EYFS Framework and managed the overall EYFS planning and structure in the nursery. I continued to study and moved up into an nursery administration position to gain a stronger understanding of the day to day running, policies and procedures and management in an established nursery. Shortly after I moved into a management position, setting up the administration for a new branch and overseeing the administration for two very well known, award winning nurseries in Dubai.

I spent a short time during my career working as an Educational Consultant and Trainer for a reputable training company here in the UAE. During this period, I taught various EYFS courses, First Aid and Health and Safety, all relating to the Early Years sector. Here I trained Directors, Managers, Teachers and Assistants. I decided to go back into nurseries after a brief time and became a qualified Nursery Manager. My latest post is a Centre Manager & Group Operations Manager for 2, soon to become 3 established Nurseries & Early Learning Centres. Alongside this, my personal venture was founding the very successful group "EYFS Professionals UAE' just over a year ago which now has over 1600 members, all of which are already working in the Early Years Industry or looking to start a career in it.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?

Looking back on my career, my biggest achievement is knowing that I have made a difference to so many children’s lives.

Working in the Early Years, I have met hundreds of diverse families, looking for the best possible start for their children, knowing that I have contributed towards that makes me extremely proud. Alongside this, building a network of EYFS Professionals in the UAE was a great achievement for me. With new members growing daily, it is fantastic to see everyone working together and sharing best practice.

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

Waking up each morning knowing that my team are impacting positively on the lives of hundreds of children from diverse backgrounds and cultures is a great feeling. Seeing the smiles of not just the children, but the families faces when they see positive changes and development in their children, and of course, the motivation from parents when they thank you for making their child’s life a little happier every single day. The rewards when working with children are endless.

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

My plan this year is to continue with my professional development and networking. Surrounding yourself with a strong network can always enhance your knowledge and support you. My target for the future is to eventually open my own setting.

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?

Always keep updating and continuing with your professional development, this does not always have to be achieved with expensive courses, but take time out to read, research and network. Networking is a wonderful way to make friends with similar interests and learn along the way. Every day will come with new challenges, but focus on the end goal. Believe that you are making a positive impact on the future generation but also aim to make an impact on other professionals in the sector. Alongside this, always support others, celebrate their successes, achievements, and grow with them, make sure they understand that they are appreciated and hold great potential to make a huge difference to a child’s life.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

Of course, the number one pleasure every day is the children. By spending time with them, you learn something new every single day, about yourself and about them!


Stephanie Hamilton: Campaigner and Advocate for Inclusive Education

Stephanie became a campaigner for the admission of children with SEND to Dubai's private schools shortly after she began trying to find a school place for twelve-year-old daughter Ruby. She assiduously collects data in the hopes of being able to use it to promote changes through the KHDA.

Ruby has Downs Syndrome and for the past nine-years, Stephanie has been battling over 40 school rejections in the fight for Ruby's right to mainstream education.

The battle has seen her launch a photography project, called 'I am ME,' to date the project has profiled 16 extraordinary lives. She says, "the project sort of acted as a portal... when you share stories, you start getting messages and that's when the advocacy work began."

"I've lent my voice... shone a light on the financial pressures, marital issues, the burden on parents, and the lack of support for parents and siblings. Policy change is the beginning of that support, but there is still work to be done.”

We met Stephanie when she presented the roll out of the KHDA’s new inclusion policy, where she educated the audience and media on just what it means to seek school admission with a child with SEND.


How long have you worked in the UAE? 

I have lived away from my native land of Canada for 21-years. Fourteen of which have been spent in the UAE.  

What made you choose the education sector? 

I have three daughters who influence where my energy goes when it comes to education. Having a daughter with Down Syndrome has amplified that desire to see educational offerings that are tailored to individuals and developing their highest potential, but most importantly providing equal opportunities for fully inclusive education. 

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?

The UAE is incredibly unique in its structure when it comes to education. I see this as an area for growth on many levels. Our children are not created from the same mould, and therefore it’s important to have flexibility in providing curriculum that can be adapted to suit all strengths, and to nurture all areas of improvement. As a parent of a child of Determination I see cost as the number one barrier in allowing each child a chance at what I would say is true inclusion.

Financial issues are the topic for many parents who face the crippling high costs that are imposed by schools on children of Determination. The costs can often be double or triple what mainstream students pay to access their right to an education. In addition to this, we may also learn that our children are not following a curriculum suitable to their needs. Children can end up frustrated as their gifts and abilities are widely underestimated which may manifest itself as a lack of progress. In many cases, they are not being challenged according to their true potential. It takes the true expertise of a special educator to be able to support teachers and schools in this process, and I hope to see more experienced Special Educators supporting this movement towards full inclusion in Dubai. 

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

As a parent advocate, whose daughter had upwards of 40 rejections trying to get into mainstream school, I would say first and foremost that gaining entry after such a long haul was a great milestone.

Having had this struggle acted as a catalyst in creating a project called I am ME (Most Extraordinary) which educates, advocates and mainstreams beauty in difference. The project highlights stories of people’s gifts and challenges throughout the UAE with an intent to show the human thread that connects us all. Recently I spoke at the launch of the KHDA Inclusion policy which was another great opportunity to highlight issues from a parents perspective in inclusion such as; entry into schools, marital issues due to high stress, financial pressures, and challenging our educators to understand how their decisions impact families in the UAE. I hope to continue to keep the dialogue going of how we can find a solution to many of these issues. 

I have also recently created a parent support group called The Mindful POD which aims to create a safe space for parents of determination to gain access to a free event each month focusing on self care and mindfulness. The idea is to grow this into a respite program long term to hopefully provide support to tired, stressed parents who need to refill their cup. 

What do you think is your greatest educational achievement is to date, and why?

My greatest achievement as a parent advocate is standing strong in my values and ensuring my daughter gains access to an education she deserves. Currently she is attending mainstream school despite many obstacles that we are still facing on a daily basis. The fact that she is progressing and thriving tells me that the struggle is worth it, although I wonder how amazing it would be to be able to put that energy it takes to constantly battle directly into helping her develop further. I look forward to the day where the focus can simply be on her education , and not the struggles that still act as barriers to full inclusion. 

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

My husband and three girls.

Connection with friends in nature (Beach, Desert)

Working towards my dreams.

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

I have a dream to create a Retreat Centre that will have a sustainable village onsite where People of Determination can live and work. I can see my daughter living here among her peers, sharing her gifts with clientele who will come to the Centre to learn how to manage stress and health empowerment skills. It will be a special place, and a great step towards independent living for people like my daughter. I want my daughter to be a contributing and valued member of society. This would be a great step towards supporting that dream. 

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success? 

Tenacity and support. It takes a vision and consistent action towards that vision to make an impact, no matter how big or small. I am in a constant state of reaching out and asking for help, receiving and supporting others where I can who are in a similar situation, or making small steps towards my long term plan. Support is important. Facing rejection, but keeping the vision alive is equally part of the process. 

We can only make big leaps sustainably as a collective. Building a community and constant communication is so important. 

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

We are here on this earth in the “school of life”. Learning is a privilege, which is a joy that should, and CAN be easily accessible for all. The joy of advocating for my daughter selfishly comes in knowing that others will not have to face the same struggles on the future. 


Nargish Khambatta, GEMS Modern Academy

Principal Nargish has been on our radar for quite some time now, for her continued and exceptional work at GEMS Modern Academy.

Not only has she consistently maintained the school's 'Outstanding' rating from the KHDA, (currently the only Indian curriculum school to hold the score), but she also ensures the school is consistently winning in sport, has exceptional exam results and continually leads in innovation.

This year however, we recognise Nargish for her incredible altruistic decision to donate half her recent winnings from the 'Exceptional Head' award to establish a staff-welfare fund.

Back in February, Nargish won the annual GEMS 'Exceptional Head' award together with 273,000 AED prize money. On receiving the money, she went on to announce the establishment of a staff-welfare fund, eliminating the need for staff to take out costly loans.

How long have you worked in the UAE?

On and off since December 1987, with a hiatus of 6 years in Oman and 6 years in India before I returned in 2009.  

What made you choose the education sector?

Like every youngster, I dreamt of being at least a dozen different professionals – a policewoman, a doctor, a writer, an army officer, a teacher. I had two inspiring teachers who I wanted to emulate. When I was in grade 10, I explained Julius Caesar to a friend who hugged me and said “I’ve finally understood Shakespeare!” I suppose that was a defining moment for me. The exhilaration of making a difference was stimulating.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE

We rarely think of education as an ‘industry’ so I had to stop in my tracks and re-examine the question! There is no industry (!) that is free of challenges and education is no exception. Education is poised at an interesting turning point and thought leaders like Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra and Pasi Sahlberg are influencing radical changes as there are many challenges faced by new age learners. Since your question is specific to the UAE, to my mind, the two prominent impediments revolve around the dilemma of choice and transfers out of the country.

Expatriates in the UAE are spoiled for choice – different curricular, varied schools at different price points and so many activities on offer! This can sometimes result in a dilemma as parents change schools for reasons that do not always seem reasonable to educators. We have parents seeking admission whose children have changed three schools in less than 6 years! There is no school that is perfect and rather than look around for alternatives, if parents work with the school leadership teams to resolve issues, it is always the child who benefits.

Expatriates are regularly transferred out of the country or return to their home base. This results in an abrupt change for children who are impacted if it is not a planned move. At times, teachers too get transferred with their spouses and leave school midway, thus impacting learning.

Having said that, the education scene in Dubai is world class. We have very high standards with a focus on learning, holistic development and wellbeing of children, excellent resources and facilities, extra-curricular activities and plenty of opportunities to bring out the genius in every type of student.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

At every stage there have been different milestones to celebrate – when my children were young, I thoroughly enjoyed being a teacher, with common timings and vacations. When my husband’s job required him to travel, I went with my children to India and was a resident teacher in a boarding school. This allowed me to explore different facets of my capabilities, and leadership seemed to come to the fore – I enjoyed being appointed the first lady Housemaster of a senior boys residence in one of India’s better known schools - The Doon School, often referred to as the Eton of the East.

Joining GEMS Education as Vice Principal of GEMS Modern Academy was another important milestone. 2014 and now 2018 have been magical years! Escorting a team of ten bright teenagers to Antarctica as part of Sir Robert Swan’s expedition and being appointed Principal of Modern were the highlights in 2014. Our school getting the 7th Outstanding rating by the KHDA and being awarded the GEMS Exceptional Head of School Award in 2018 have made me pause and count my blessings.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?

Every day is a wonderful experience because I love what I do and consider it a privilege to work with such an awesome group of people. I believe my greatest achievement in education is influencing teachers and parents to gear everything we do around benefiting the children in our care. My team is motivated to ensure that every child is happy to come to school; is challenged, engaged and inspired to work beyond his/her capability and is equipped to step out into the world mature, confident, sensitive and with enough cultural intelligence to make a positive difference wherever they are. I believe that is the true essence of being an educator.

 Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

The children.

The children.

The children.

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

 I have a deep desire to change our education system and free our children from the pressures they face. To quote Frost, I have miles to go before I sleep.

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?

My mantra: Love what you do. Be genuine and compassionate. Use every opportunity as a learning opportunity. Consider every obstacle/problem as a vehicle to broaden your horizons. 

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

Being around children, understanding their dreams.

Being around teachers, providing the support they need to help our children realise their dreams.

The love of learning every single day!

Nargish was nominated by our 2017 Influencers


The KHDA Mums

Three-years ago the KHDA put a call out seeking a group of dynamic, multi-lingual mums to represent the Authority as; ambassadors, community outreach workers and parent advisors.

Today the team of five; Therese Sequeira, Nora Khorshed, Anisah Ismail,  Aruna Shenoy, and Moza Al Marri spearhead all the above and more...

To date, the team have interviewed over 530 teachers for their ‘Teachers of Dubai’ project, profiling the work of Dubai’s teachers and have recently released a book on their work.

Their role has continued to evolve and today they manage the KHDA’s Positive Parenting workshops, giving Dubai's parents access to some of the biggest global names in positive parenting.

Acting as a direct link to parents, the KHDA regularly consults the 'mums' when it plans policy change which will affect Dubai's parents. 

In the words of Fida Slayman Head of Communications at the KHDA, "they help the KHDA understand what parents really want and where their concerns lie."


How long have you lived in the UAE?

We are happy to call Dubai our home for several years now – some of us have been here for four years, and others, almost forty years. 

What made you choose the education sector?

We all have children in Dubai private schools and we share a common goal of wanting our children to have the best possible educational experience.  We grew up in different parts of the world, with different backgrounds, but our ideas and expectations regarding the future of our children are very similar.  We are invested in supporting our children’s learning, and believe that the education sector is where we can effectively use our experiences and our diversity – in culture, background and personalities, to help shape and secure the future of our children. 

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing parents in education in the UAE?

Talking about challenges is tricky because then we just end up talking about challenges! We prefer to use the ‘opportunity’ approach. School fees are of concern to parents, us included. We’ve noticed in the last few years especially that there are many more new schools opening which offer discounted founders’ fees, and there are also many existing schools that are decreasing their fees, so there are opportunities there for parents. 

There are also lots of opportunities for parents to engage more with schools about how homework impacts their children. It’s difficult for us as parents to strike that balance between school, homework and leisure. We want our children to do well academically, but we also want to make sure that they have enough time to relax, play, be happy, and just be kids.

Our children love their teachers and it’s wonderful when they see those same teachers at school year after year. It’s disruptive to children’s learning when teachers leave in the middle of the academic year, so we think there are opportunities there for schools to do more to keep the good teachers they have.

Schools have made a lot of progress in ensuring that ‘students of determination’ have access to high quality affordable education, and there are still lots of ‘opportunities’ there. Between us, we have two children who have special education needs, and we know how important it is to have schools that are appropriately prepared and equipped to support children with special education needs and disabilities. We believe in an inclusive school environment that minimises children’s experience of disability and enables them to thrive. 

What have been the key highlights in your roles so far?

The first one has to be the launch of an initiative that is very close to our hearts – ‘Teachers of Dubai.’  It is an online series that brings stories of our awesome teachers to the community, and we love how the community has responded. Students and their parents, friends, and colleagues, all send their appreciation and gratitude via likes and comments on our social media platforms daily. So each time a teacher feels this love and appreciation from the community, we count as a milestone.   The first story of the series was posted on World Teachers’ Day (October 5th) 2015.  We are currently at 500 stories, and counting!

The launch of the “Teachers of Dubai” book at last year’s World Teacher’s Day celebration was special, too. We held an event where we celebrated all the amazing teachers we are lucky enough to have here. It was incredible to have an occasion just to celebrate the awesomeness of teachers!

Also, from January last year, we started organising Positive Parenting workshops for Dubai parents.  This is particularly important to us, because as parents we know we could all use some help, and these workshops provide practical strategies to help build and support positive parent-child relationships.  We share information on upcoming workshops via the KHDA, Teachers of Dubai & IPEN Dubai social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Attendance is completely free and open to all Dubai parents.  

What do you think is your greatest achievement in education to date, and why?

Our greatest achievement is raising the profile of teachers in Dubai by appreciating them. We receive requests from Dubai parents and students nominating their favourite teachers to be featured in this series, sharing with us touching stories about teachers going above and beyond their duties. Teachers of Dubai has been a great way of celebrating teachers and getting people to value the importance of sharing positive educational experiences.

We are deeply grateful to the teachers for sharing their life stories with us.  Outside the classroom, there is so much more to these wonderful teachers. Some are deep water PADI divers, dancers, singers, yoga instructors and adventurers!  We’ve even met a teacher who had run away with a circus for a time!

We are also happy that we are helping increase KHDA’s parent engagement via the #ParentsPosEd workshops, and opening up more channels of communication, effectively giving a voice to the parent community in KHDA’s policy-making.

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

Three? We can name fourteen! That’s the number of children we have between us, and they are the reason why we do what we do here at KHDA.  We are motivated by wanting our children to have a love for learning, to have the best opportunities possible and helping them to flourish with confidence and independence.

What would you still like to achieve in your roles?

We would like to continue to give a voice to Dubai parents, and we would also like for parents to learn more about the many roles of the KHDA. It’s not all about inspections. The KHDA is doing amazing work bringing quality education to Dubai, and events like What Works and Living Arabic are great for teachers’ professional development. We are very happy with KHDA’s increasing focus on positive education and student wellbeing – especially through the Dubai Student Wellbeing Census in which almost 70,000 Dubai students participated. 

We would also like to support the development that is occurring in schools in the teaching of Arabic language to Arabic and non-Arabic speakers. We are really looking forward to working closely with more Emirati and Arabic parents so we can best understand the challenges that they face in education as well.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your work? 

We love visiting schools and meeting with such fantastic teachers from all walks of life. We love meeting parents and listening to them share their children’s schooling experiences. We enjoy meeting educational professionals from all over the world and learning about new innovations in education which are being implemented in Dubai private schools. Most of all we love bringing educators, parents and the KHDA together, as we know wholeheartedly that we all share a common goal that all children in Dubai are happy and have the best learning experiences possible.



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