Abu Dhabi // Among the exhibition stands at the Building Future Education Mena show yesterday was a tantalising glimpse of the hi-tech future of the emirate's government schools.
After more than a year of research, involving Abu Dhabi academics, teachers, principals and pupils, Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) has designed a model for new school buildings to cater for future generations.
Fifteen are scheduled to open next September - and they will house boys and girls in the same buildings.
"There will be a wall to separate them," said Hamad al Dhaheri, director of infrastructure and facilities at Adec. "But the schools could actually be mixed." Facilities will be shared, but genders will be separated.
They are the start of a massive expansion of the school system. According to Mr al Dhaheri, Adec plans to build 100 schools within the next 10 years.
The first of those, currently under construction, will have a community area where pupils of different ages will mix. This, said Mr al Dhaheri, will help all pupils, because "different kids from different year groups will be able to learn from one another".
Science labs and art studios will be close to the classrooms where those subjects are taught, for ease of movement in and out of classes.
"There are no corridors, and we have a learning community," said Mr al Dhaheri. "These are so there is more one-to-one interaction between teachers and students, and for the teachers to have better control over their classes."
Mazen Chouihna, the facilities design officer at Adec, pointed out one feature that would help discipline. "Teachers will have their own station, and with the usage of interactive white boards, will have their eye on the kids, rather than having her back to them."
The schools will have a "learning community" area, where up to five different classes can come together at once.
"It is like one giant classroom, children are almost imprisoned in current classes," said Alberto Treves, head of educational facilities design at Adec.
"Why should you have only 20 kids to one teacher in one class, when you can put more kids together and more teachers?"
To ease that sense of "imprisonment", traditional wooden doors will be replaced with glass, "so the students can always see what is going on outside. The doors will be bigger, too, taking up half the total wall space. Teachers can take the group of students and work in these areas, or play."
The new schools will also ease the transition from middle school to high school by bring the age groups together. "Now these students can be combined, they will be able to work together and help each other in their education," he said.
The schools will be greener, too. At the new Abu Dhabi West on Khaleej Al Arabi street, the roof will be a solar panel, and there will be green gardens in the lobby.
"There is so much sunlight in this region, we ought to use it," said Miceal Sammon, the chief executive of Sammon group, which is working with Adec on the construction of the school. "We want to make schools cool for children, especially for this region in the world. Within the next 10 years, there will be two million more students in this region, and a need for 6,200 schools, we need to start fast.
"Emirati children here should feel privileged that the government is spending so much money on them. Children in other countries would have to pay a lot of money for this."
With construction well under way on the schools due for next year, designs for the next batch, to open in 2012, are being drawn up. "They will be the same," said Mr al Dhaheri. "They are just more cost effective."