Abu Dhabi’s top schools look to arts and sport to set themselves apart

Investing in sports and arts are the way the UAE's top schools are attempting to distinguish themselves from the rest.

Hugo John, 11, and Alexandra Mitsis, 9, members of the Cranleigh School wind band, toot their horns. The Saadiyat Island school promotes extra-curricular activities such as sports, music and the arts to mould more confident and well-rounded pupils. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Investing in sports and arts is the way the emirate’s top schools are attempting to distinguish themselves from the rest.

Teachers at these schools said that by being able to offer extra-curricular activities they are helping to mould more confident and well-rounded pupils.

At Cranleigh Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, the school’s facilities include a 600-seat theatre, complete with a full orchestra pit, a dance hall, 10 private music practice rooms, a multipurpose gymnasium and two outdoor swimming pools.

Headmaster Brendan Law believes such facilities justify the higher fees the school charges because it improves a child’s education experience. Last academic year the fees were up to Dh80,000.

“The more you see children involved in the broader aspects of school life, the more they seem to achieve in the academics,” Mr Law said.

“What that’s doing is it’s setting them up for life, it’s giving them life skills that they need to then be able to hit the city and the marketplace with a great deal of confidence and a rounded character.

“It’s who you are and not what you’ve got on a degree certificate that’s going to really set you apart in the world.”

Clive Pierrepont, director of communications for the education group Taaleem, which operates Raha International School (RIS) in Abu Dhabi, agreed top-class facilities were essential for the best schools.

“We’ve got a lot of incredibly talented students in our schools and developing all aspects of their personality and fostering their talents is one of our main missions,” Mr Pierrepont said. Next year at RIS a 650-seat auditorium will open to support its performing and creative arts programme.

“Gone are the days that when you have successfully completed a conventional but ever narrowing academic education that you are guaranteed a job for life in a traditional profession such as law or banking,” he said.

Education was not just about providing children with academic qualifications “but also skills that are going to help them be to able to adapt and problem solve in a rapidly changing world”.

Simon Crane, deputy head co-curricular at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, said his school encouraged pupils to try out arts and sports activities.

“The big thing we say at Brighton College is that pupils need to try a variety of pursuits as they are growing up,” he said.

“The research suggests that if children specialise too early, it can cause burnout, so it’s important that they are exposed to a wide variety of activities.”

He believed that the pupils who were most academically successful were “also very successful outside the classroom in the sports field or on the stage”.

Public schools operated by the Ministry of Education also place a strong value on the performing arts and physical education, said Hanan Elattar, a supervisor for the Sharjah Education Zone.

She believed musical studies could help children “express themselves in a better way so they learn about other cultures and they learn how to function in groups”.

In the 22 years that she had been working in the UAE, she said, she had seen a change in education, with much more emphasis now on arts and sports.

rpennington@thenational.ae