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Summer School is Opening New Doors for Emirati Pupils

Melanie Swan, The National
July 14, 2013

If the pupils cannot get to the class, bring the class to the pupils.

It seems an obvious solution, and it is giving teenagers in remote villages in Ras Al Khaimah the chance of a university education.

Mohammed Ali Hamad, 16, who lives in Al Ghail village, about an hour outside RAK city, is one of 20 young people spending their summer learning English.

Previously, his access to language classes was limited, and his school does not specifically prepare pupils for the IELTS test, the English-language examination that universities require students to pass as part of their application.

That is where the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research stepped in, organising classes at Al Ghail youth club this summer.

"English language is very important in this world," said Mohammed. "When I finish, I want to go to Abu Dhabi University to study mechanical engineering."

He does not drive so cannot easily access courses in RAK city, but the new summer course takes place just five minutes from his home.

"RAK is too far," he said. "Before, I went one time to a class in RAK but now I come four times a week to the class in my village. My brother drives me."

"The more remote areas often don't have access to such programming," said the programme's Caitrin Mullan. "As a result Al Ghail sessions have been exceptionally popular with the students and their families."

Many of the 20 students, who were chosen for their academic talents and through recommendations and school results, need to be pushed more, she said, judging by initial assessments.

"They are lagging behind, especially in English, compared to what we know they are capable of," Ms Mullan said.

Amal Salem Ahmad, 16, is studying at Al Asma bin Al Hareath School for girls. She hopes to study paediatrics in Korea.

"I love Korea, Korean people, Korean culture and I can speak a little bit of Korean," she said. "English is very important because I can speak to people with English who won't know Arabic. Nobody knows Arabic.

"I don't know where I can learn Korean, so maybe I can speak to them in English."

Amal said the course was beneficial not only for learning English but also developing skills such as discipline and communication in a mixed-gender environment.

Access to the course has been vital because she struggled to travel to classes in the city and now there are none at her ability level.

"I don't live in RAK and it is about one and a half hours away from my village, Wadi Al Ejaeli, near Hatta," she said. "It's hard to go to RAK. Before, it was in RAK which was very far from us. We say we want it near us, so now it's near to more of us."

Amal has her parents' support, even for travelling abroad.

"My parents love for me to take this course, even though it is very far away but they still want me to take it so I can study," she said. "My mother is worried for me but my father wants me to."

The mixed-gender classes initially posed a cultural challenge for the foundation, with many parents wanting to sit in on the lessons and observe while the children sat for the first time alongside students of the opposite sex.

But it has proven to be an invaluable experience, Ms Mullan said, promoting a sense of "healthy competition" among the students because "the boys realise the girls are really smart".

"Even if they don't study abroad, we know they are going to have to mix with the opposite sex when they go into the workplace eventually, so this is a big learning curve, learning that boys and girls communicate differently," she added.

"I want to study engineering in the UAE, maybe at UAE University," said Waad Saeed Mohamad, 17, a pupil at Muzoon High School who has been going to the classes two days a week for five weeks.

"When I go, English will help me to understand what the teacher says and help me to know what I want to do in the future.

"If I didn't take this course, my English might not be good enough.

"The class gives us a more difficult vocabulary and it helps us in our life. It challenges us."