In The News

News | events | Al Qasimi Foundation | Ras Al Khaimah skyline | media

News Search

Hands on Learning, Continuing to Make an Impact


December 25, 2017

The Al Qasimi Foundation’s Hands on Learning (HOL) pilot program continues to positively impact male students at Saeed bin Jubair School for Boys in Ras Al Khaimah. For the last four years the program has been re-engaging students at risk of dropping out or disengaging from school. During the 2016-17 academic year, the program saw a 70% improvement in student attendance as well as substantial gains in students’ life skills development.

“We are very happy and honoured to be the first school in Ras Al Khaimah to host this progressive program. We are most importantly proud of our students and the achievements they have accomplished through the program, and the positive changes we have been witnessing in their attitudes and behaviours,” said Azza Embasi, Principal of the Saeed bin Jubair School.

HOL began as a pilot program in October of 2014. It was initiated in response to a 2013 study on male student dropouts in the UAE that found a combination of negative school factors playing a large role in students’ decision to skip classes, and ultimately drop out of school. These factors included poor academic achievement, behavioural issues, and negative or weak relationships with teachers.

By engaging students in projects outside their normal classrooms one day each week, the program has created a safe space for students to build positive relationships with teachers and peers. It also helps them discover how much they capable of doing while developing critical life skills such as collaboration, leadership, problem solving, resilience, communication, and empathy.

“Unconditional acceptance of students as individuals and removing the high-stakes performance environment of school has allowed them to discover what else they can achieve,” said Ms. Sahar ElAsad, a Research Associate at the Al Qasimi Foundation. “Now some are seniors in the school and it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch these students, who started with us, grow into the confident young men we see today.”

Although there is a vocational element to the program, that is not its purpose. HOL focuses on helping students re-engage in school through increasing their attendance and developing their life skills. It does this using a collaborative, project-based learning approach.

Mr. John Kennedy serves as the Technical Education Instructor and has been with the program for several years. “When the pilot started, HOL was doing small projects like building individual chairs and tables. As the students’ workmanship increased, we moved on to more challenging projects, including designing and building a traditional Emirati palm thatch house. It has been rewarding to see how much ownership the students have in the program and their excitement to share what they have accomplished with visitors.”

In November, the students completed their most ambitious and visible project yet when they landscaped the external entrance to the school. The students were involved in all phases of the project from planning to execution, and used the opportunity to explore sustainability and environmental stewardship by incorporating climate-appropriate plants and techniques into their designs.

“It was very hard,” said one student. “However, throughout the following week [after the project was completed] we were getting compliments about the entryway from everyone—teachers, students, even the cashier from the Aswaq (supermarket next to the school). My dad also told me the school looks very different now, and I feel proud that I was a part of this.”

Beyond the weekly projects, HOL tries to include at least one social activity each term. The most recent was an inter-school football tournament organized by the HOL boys and the Al Qasimi Foundation, which aimed to promote an active, healthy lifestyle while fostering teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. The HOL students participated as a team, and teachers, staff, family and friends attended the event to cheer them on. At the end, the students received medals and special prizes for their participation.

“This is a great event!” said one parent. “It is very well organized! I wish the schools could make more of these events, because I can meet parents of my son’s friends that share similar interests and concerns, and I also like watching my son being active and really enjoying himself.”

Increasing the visibility of the students’ efforts has increased the positive reinforcement students receive from their teachers, peers, and parents. This has helped create a shared culture of success and support community for students and their families. Most importantly, the students’ pride in their work has further motivated them to achieve their goals.

“If I had to pick one point that shows the HOL program works, it would be the students who were so close to leaving the education system,” said Mr. Kennedy. “Four of the school’s most challenging students three years ago are now school prefects and leaders who have earned the respect of the entire school community. They have aspirations and the confidence to actually achieve them.”

Please visit the Al Qasimi Foundation website for more information regarding the Hands on Learning Program. Please read the Foundation’s working paper, Patterns and Perceptions in Male Secondary School Dropouts in the United Arab Emirates, for background about male dropout rates in the UAE.