'He was a champion for education': How Sheikh Khalifa helped Abu Dhabi's oldest schools

Bangladeshi and British schools tell of their debt of gratitude to the late President

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In the mid-1980s, Abu Dhabi's Bangladeshi community was desperate for its own school, as pupils were studying in rooms in a villa or other temporary locations.

Community members had tried to fundraise but the amount needed was beyond what they could collect.

UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, donated the land and then the late President, Sheikh Khalifa, gave Dh2.5 million for construction of the school in Muroor. It opened in 1990.

Shortly after Sheikh Khalifa's death, two of Abu Dhabi's oldest schools paid tribute to the crucial support they received from the late President.

The whole community, the Bangladesh government and also our school personnel, pupils, parents — all owe a lot to his contribution
Mir Anisul Hasan, former headmaster, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia School

The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia School and The British School Al Khubairat said Sheikh Khalifa's assistance and sponsorship demonstrate the importance the country has placed on education.

Among those who praised the late President was the Bangladeshi school.

“Had there been no contribution from the President, the school would never have been possible,” said Mir Anisul Hasan, former headmaster, who worked there for nearly 36 years.

“The whole community, the Bangladesh government and also our school personnel, pupils, parents — all owe a lot to his contribution.”

Mr Hasan said he had the honour of meeting Sheikh Khalifa in the mid-1990s.

“I had the luck of shaking hands with him. I was overjoyed,” he said.

“He was always a champion for education. Everybody knows that he was a lover of education, of culture and humanitarian acts.”

The school’s annual tuition fees are under Dh6,000 ($1,633), making quality education accessible to children from a range of economic backgrounds.

Mr Hasan said the school is also now a hub of sustainable education.

The Sheikh Zayed Future Energy prize awarded it $100,000 in 2013 for a proposal to reduce its energy consumption by 40 per cent.

The school aims to make its campus carbon neutral by installing solar panels on its rooftops and improving the efficiency of cooling.

It has already cut its energy consumption by 15 per cent after installing energy-saving light bulbs at its campus.

“Sheikh Khalifa did not ignore the weaker or the economically underprivileged people,” said Anita Saul, head of the English department at the school, which is the only Bangladeshi curriculum school in the emirate.

“That was the greatness of Sheikh Khalifa. He did not promote education only for the rich and the affluent. He ensured it was available to all.

“The community has benefited a lot … so many pupils have reached high levels in society and even at this school. Some of our alumni have been offered the golden visas.”

Mark Leppard, headmaster at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi, also spoke of the support from Sheikh Khalifa.

“It's an absolute honour to have the President as the school sponsor,” said Mr Leppard.

“That shows how The British School Al Khubairat is part of the fabric of the country because we were one of the first schools set up through an Emiri decree and to have the President as the sponsor — it just shows the standing of the school and the importance the country has placed on education.”

Founded in 1968, the school was also built on land donated by Sheikh Zayed and sponsored since 1980 by Sheikh Khalifa, meaning he supported the school with any government assistance it might have needed.

It is one of Abu Dhabi's oldest schools and also hosted many special visits over the years from dignitaries such as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

“Sheikh Khalifa had a passion for education and he saw that as a key driver for the future of the nation,” said Mr Leppard.

“So I think that the quality of schools that you have in Abu Dhabi, the number of schools in the UAE and the rigour with which they are led … it's clear that that agenda has come from the top and as President, it has come from Sheikh Khalifa.”

A version of this story was first published on May 18, 2022

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