Educated in the Emirates

Feature As part of our Young in the Muslim World series, students give us a glimpse into their classroom experiences.

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - September 23 - 2008: American University in Dubai student Maleeshya Galappaththi consults with a colleague between classes. (Manuel Salazar/The National). *** Local Caption ***  TeenMaleeshyaAUD2.jpgTeenMaleeshyaAUD2.jpg
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Growing up in the UAE may be a unique experience. Many teenagers are coming of age in a country where they are not citizens, and those teenagers who are from the Emirates are entering adulthood in a ­fast-changing nation. In many ways, though, these adolescents are like their peers around the world. Locals and expatriates alike grow up saturated with the same pop culture that circulates the globe, the same television programmes, the same music and the same celebrities. And like teenagers everywhere, they are not shy about expressing their opinions. We asked them to tell us, in their own words, how they felt about a variety of topics and the subject of school elicited a variety of lively responses. Their letters contained everything from laments on the length of the school day and the trials and tribulations of detention, to praise for school spirit, favourite teachers, classmates and long lunch breaks. They also address the serious difficulties of coping with exam stress, parental pressure and soaring school fees. Taken together, these letters offer a touching insight into the ups and downs of being educated in the UAE.

Maleeshya Galappaththi 17 years old Dubai Wake up at six in the morning, take a quick shower, gobble down your breakfast and run to catch the bus before it leaves you. Do not forget your homework assignment, which you've been working on all of last night (or you will be rewarded with a detention), get to your class before your teacher does and try to stay awake throughout the boring classes in order to get at least 80 per cent in your exam the next day. Yes, school does seem to take over our lives. Most of our childhood is spent in school or has something related to school. Though it is a pain in the short run, it turns out to be useful. The friends we make in school may remain friends throughout our lives. You may see something on the news, which you have learnt about in school, and you explain it to your parents. You are proud about knowing something they didn't. Then comes the big day; you finish school and suddenly time stops for a moment as you recall the memories you have had and you wonder how time flew by so quickly. You wish you spent another day through the same boring routine. You realise that you are now ­someone, with a purpose, on your way to university, smarter and much more confident. Though school can be such a drag, we will eventually see that it prepares us for the future. Soak in the memories and live every moment as if nothing lasts ­forever, because school days certainly don't.

Rifayat Raisa 13 years old Dubai School: a place where children aged five to 18 years spend around 30 hours per week. It's a very ­important setting in our life. We have many different feelings about it; as for me, well, I have both love and hatred for it. So, first, what do I hate about school? Oh yeah, as if anyone will have trouble guessing that: exams, of course. The world's number one scariest and most hated thing. My personal worst nightmare. Days and nights of studying, tension, and not to mention, Mum's non-stop worries about how she's sure I'm going to fail this time. Sleepless nights, tired mornings, how evil could this thing get? And then, finally, it's over. Hurray! Summer holiday. Don't you miss school? Why's that? Because there are still things that you love about school! Yes, my friend. Think of all the good times at school. For me, I love school, excluding exams and learning stuff, of course. Other than that, studying isn't so bad, is it? School is the place where you meet most of your friends. And with your friends beside you, even the worst subject at school doesn't seem so bad, does it? In spite of the teachers disagreeing with me, it's us being up to some mischief that makes school extra-fun. Think about it. Will you ever enjoy anywhere else as much as you enjoy school? I don't think so. So, even though I have a frown on my face thinking about my studies this year, let's not forget this is what makes school itself. Without it... Imagine Harry Potter without Lord Voldemort. Life would be pretty ­boring, huh?

Madhu Suresh 15 years old Dubai School is all about education. A child is defined by education. I went to a small primary school, which had about 250 to 300 students. As this was the case, each student knew every other student well, irrelevant of age or level. This feeling of community in a school is very rare and I had the opportunity to have it. However, I assumed every school was the same and stepped into secondary school, which had almost triple the number of students. This lost the sense of community and togetherness, as people formed friendship groups and clubs. I fit in, but there were a few who didn't. ­Imagine their plight. They would grow into diffident adults and they would try to grow out of their horrid experience, but they couldn't. This is a problem about 13.8 per cent of children in every school face. That's a huge number. I like school. A student obtains knowledge and a feel of what life is about. However, he or she is not told how to live their life.

Arpi Berberian 13 years old Sharjah What do I love about school? That's the question that runs in every teenager's mind, including mine. Most people think school is a joke and that they don't need it, but school is actually essential to life and is needed in every way. Some people hate it because of the detentions and studies and maybe from the pressure they get from teachers. I hate to ­admit that some schools do put a lot of pressure on students and it gets very irritating sometimes, but if you pay attention, some students need that pressure to get their brains working. So I must say I love school too, but not everything about it. I love four things about my school. Firstly, I love the fact that they give us two breaks ­during the day, the first one is a break for 15 minuets and the second is a lunch for one hour and a half. Secondly, I love that they have a new programme called "homework exams". It is a new way to be prepared for the future exams. We basically study at home and do the exam on the subject we have. It is very simple. Thirdly, I love that the school has many activities, such as competitions we have against other schools and the activities that are held in school. Finally, I love the teachers we have. They are very kind and nice. They listen to you sometimes, but not every time, and yet basically they are sweet and kind. They play with you and walk with you and they laugh with you. So I must say that I love the teachers we have at our school. For these four reasons, I must say that I am proud to say that I love my school in every way.

Joann Judith Joseph Varghese 10 years old Dubai I love school because I have lot of friends. The teachers are kind and help you if you have any problems. There is coloured clothes day and ethnic day in my school. If a child is sick who does not have enough money to have an operation, our school collects a lot of money and gives it to the child. We have shows and competitions in our school. For example, we recycle newspapers, cans and plastic, and the one who collects the highest will get a prize. This is what I love about my school. The things that I hate about my school are that the school fees and bus fees are increasing and it is really hard for all the parents to pay. We have a lot of books to carry. Even the books are expensive. In sport period, every time we have the same games and it is boring. Before, in my school, we had small vans and it used to be very hot because the air-conditioners do not work. But now we have big buses and it is nice and cold.

Akhil Allakky 11 years old Abu Dhabi I study at Abu Dhabi Indian School (Adis) in Abu Dhabi. It is a great school with the best of the facilities. My school has a vast playground, tennis court, volleyball court, basketball court, cricket nets, a swimming pool, a canteen and a large auditorium. At Adis, we have a ­Nature Club known as "Prakriti", conducting campaigns such as beach clean up, newspaper collection for recycling, etc. My school forms four groups in each section of class - known as autumn, winter, summer and spring houses - for encouraging healthy and effective competition and fostering team spirit. We also have different types of contests, such as zonal swimming, ­interhouse and interschool challenges in various sport, quizzes, elections and so on. There is such a great demand for admission into Adis that there are sections for some classes from "A" up to "N". The teachers are very co-operative with the pupils and help them continuously fare better, which makes Adis top in studies. From ninth standard onwards, ­additional subjects like French, psychology etc are offered. Adis is an excellent school for distinguished performances at board exams. Our students topped in the recent board exams. I love Adis for all my teachers, ­ co-­students and ­facilities.

Christian Padidilian 17 years old Abu Dhabi School, known to be our second home. Teachers, known to be our second parents. Education... known to be our first priority. But in my school, students are the teachers' main priority. They make sure every student leaves the school not only with the best grades, but with discipline, dignity, and support all the way ahead, and even a recommendation letter. They have an experience of more than 11 years and ­definitely know what they're doing. They would sacrifice their break to give us an extra class (well, most of us would think of that as a pain, but wait until I get to the bottom of this). Every day, my maths teacher would take an ­extra five minutes of our English class just to make sure that we've clearly understood him. Every weekend, they would call to check on how the week was. They'd push us to extreme ends just to get us to the top. They would embarrass us, like, forever, having all the faith in us. At the end of the day, we are all thankful to our dear teachers for being there for us no matter what, because we wouldn't be anything without them. That's exactly what not only we, but all of the parents of the students of Sherwood Academy, with no regrets, love about my school.

Saahil Menon 17 years old The word "school" often ­incites sentiments of boredom and ­monotony in the minds of most ­adolescents. However, thinking about alternative ways to keep ­myself occupied for seven hours a day always curbs my unenthusiastic approach to school. The compulsion of waking up early morning and sitting through hour-long lessons is what we normally tend to cast aspersions on. Nonetheless, looking back at the copious individuals I have had the privilege of acquainting myself with during the course of these past five years induces me to turn a blind eye to these minor inconveniences. After entering year 12, I witnessed a multitude of changes with regards to the nature of studies. Although the increased workload has obliged me to devote less time to extra curricular activities and social outings, the opportunity to select only four subjects this year has enhanced my academic performance considerably by allowing me to focus solely on the subjects I have a knack for and are applicable to the career I am pursuing. There are several aspects of our academic life that we harness, yet fail to appreciate, from the genuine friendships we develop to the knowledge we gain and draw on to attain qualifications that help us earn a living after we've served our time as scholars. It is when we leave school, though, that we come to terms with all the pleasurable ­experiences we once took for granted and look back at this juvenile stage of our lives as the "good old days".