into his classroom, he smiles,” says May Al Suwaidi, mother of Obaid, a Grade 1 pupil at the Mubarak bin Mohammed School in Abu Dhabi.
This morning’s science class is a special one. For the past two weeks, the children have been learning how plants grow. Flowers, seeds and soil are in every classroom, and each pupil, dressed in green for the day, has a pot in front of them.
Now it is time to add one extra element that will complete the project – their mothers.
Lyndsey Studdard, the class teacher, explains the value of parental involvement in a child’s education.
“I notice how children are extra excited when they see their mothers,” she says.
“They talk to them about what they are learning and they are more engaged. Children also show their mothers what they are planting, thus I really think it has been a very positive initiative to involve mothers in the learning process.”
Involving parents in school – and particularly mothers – is one of the keystones of the country’s education policy.
It was underlined recently by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister, talking at the government summit in Dubai.
“I have a statistics that show the mother is the one who knows in detail how every child of hers is doing in his studies and so mothers have a lot to say on this,” he said.
Sheikh Mansour added: “ We have initiatives in several schools that include parents on the main school committee, where all suggestions are discussed and taken into consideration on a weekly basis.
“Parents are the partners in schools, their children are there, they have needs, comments and observations to make and that is why parents should be on the main committee of each school.”
At Mubarak bin Mohammed, the curriculum is set by Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), with maths, science and English handled by English-speaking teachers and other subjects taught in Arabic. The school has 1,200 pupils, both boys and girls, and has the latest in music and art rooms, a swimming pool, laboratories and both indoor and outdoor sports.
Ms Stuttard explains what the mothers can expect today: “The students have been growing seeds in the classroom for about two weeks and today they are transplanting them into the soil.”
The task is part of, “the learning process of what is a plant and what a plant needs to survive and grow”, she says.
One of the aims of the Adec science curriculum is that pupils should learn about the living world, Ms Stuttard says.
She also tries to relate their studies to the wider world. “I know UAE has a lot of farms in Al Ain,” she says. “It it is important to know where their food comes from and how they are using it as part of their economy.”
On one table, the children are drawing and labelling the different species of plants. All the materials are recyclable.
Inviting the mothers to join in, is “a great experience” she says.
It was Mrs Al Suwaidi who came up with the idea that the pupils wear green. She wanted the children to appreciate the importance of the environment, she explains.
“Now they wouldn’t walk on plants and flowers and will appreciate them more,” Obaid’s mother says, adding that the topic will also educate the children on, “the benefits of every fruit for their health and body”.
Mrs Al Suwaidi sits on the school’s mothers committee and consults with teachers across all the grades. The 12 mothers on the committee take it turns to come in pairs to the school almost every day, and are provided with their own room.
“It is extremely important for a mother to be around, to be near her child not only in the house, but also at this time of the morning,” she says.
When she first started coming into the school, Obaid was a little embarrassed, she says.
“Now he feels proud every time he sees me near him, and all his friends know me and it feels I am like their mother too.”
Another mothers’ committee member is Umm Saif Al Muhairbi. Her daughter Mahra Juma’a Al Muhairbi is sitting close to her cousin, Saeed Khalifa Al Muhairbi.
Both children are hard at work drawing parts of a plant and labelling them. Umm Saif has two daughters at the school, and today she is helping the teacher and the rest of the class.
Her daughter, Mahra, is full of confidence as she explains what she is doing. “We are studying science and plants. And I showed my mother what I am drawing. I want to have flowers in the house and when I grow up I will have a farm like my dad and will plant strawberries and flowers in it.”
Her mother stands proudly next to her daughter. The children notice her presence in the school, and also when she is not there, Umm Saif says.
“If I did not come they would feel sad and upset. They feel what they are learning is important because we show we are interested in what they are doing. And they become more confident as they go on in life.”
Other women are spending time with their children in class this morning. One is a working mother whose job in a hospital prevented from coming to the school as much as she would have liked. Another was unable to drive and had no one to bring her except from time to time.
And in addition to all the mothers, there was one grandmother. Hessa Al Zaabi had turned to spend time with Eisa and Mariam, her daughter’s children.
Mrs Al Zaabi explained that her grandchildren’s mother had busy schedule both at work and with her own further education. “I always come to the schools for my grandchildren,” she said. “I follow up on their studies so that my daughter can focus on her own.”