Jaffar Fardan, the head of Al Saeediya School in Karama, says the art project linking schools in the UAE and United Kingdom is a great opportunity.
Jaffar Fardan, the head of Al Saeediya School in Karama, says the art project linking schools in the UAE and United Kingdom is a great opportunity.

Common artistic ground by way of local waterways

DUBAI // A project linking schools in the UAE and the United Kingdom brings together pupils who might otherwise not interact with people from other cultures and religions or travel to foreign countries.

Jaffar Fardan, the head of Al Saeediya School in Karama, one of the public schools involved, said it was a great opportunity for the children. The two-year art project, which began in October, is entitled Rivers of The World. It is "very exciting for the students", he said, who are linked with counterparts in the UK by email, letters and video conferencing.

Pupils at six schools in Dubai work on projects about Dubai Creek while their UK counterparts focus on their local river.

"Sharing ideas with people from other civilisations is very beneficial," Mr Fardan said. "They feel they can communicate with others and it opens their imagination."

The Dubai children have been creating river-related art works, connecting with the history of Dubai Creek, from the fishermen to the traders, and even talking about local traditions such as pearling. "It's helping them find talents they didn't know they had," said Mr Fardan. "At first, they found the art workshops hard, but in the end they really began to enjoy it."

One such student is Ahmed Abu Baker, 14. He has found his inner artist and a hidden talent for sculpting. He is also excited to have a pen pal.

"I want to discuss the differences in our cultures, our traditions, clothes we wear," he said.

He has even learnt more about his own culture after meeting the fishermen at the creek.

"It's nice to learn about the things in my own country. I thought fishing was an easy job but there are many difficulties and dangers," he said.

Priya Nandagopal, the project manager from the British Council, said the students took great pride in sharing their culture and heritage.

Nicola Carey, a teacher at Erith School in Kent, UK, said the school applied to take part in the Rivers of the World project - which was launched in India in 2006 and now involves 17 countries from Bangladesh to Argentina - for several reasons.

"Erith School is situated in an area of significant deprivation and many of our pupils may never have had the opportunity to venture to other countries and witness first-hand other cultures, and possibly never will," she said. "The scope for learning about new and exciting ways of life that differed from their own was simply enormous. Additionally, the school is situated very close to the river Thames, which has a special history of its own."

She said the project has had a hugely positive impact on the students involved.

"Through communicating with our partners in Dubai, our pupils have had the opportunity to speak and write in another language, witness student life in another country and lose that fear of exchanging and sharing with people who come from a completely different background.

"The confidence, interpersonal skills and widening knowledge of the world outside Erith has been highly evident and rewarding. This has also fostered a curiosity and engagement with their own river and cultural history."

There have been benefits for both the teachers and the pupils, she said.

"Seeing the same subject taught in an entirely different way, with a different emphasis on the skills in the arts, has provided food for thought for all teachers involved," she said. "For the children, I think it has reassured them to feel and see that although someone may appear to be completely different from you, people are people, and potential friends at that.

"If this is the only thing they take away from the experience then this is very rewarding in itself."

Ms Nandagopal said that for the pupils, seeing the same subject handled by counterparts in another country was an eye-opening experience. Working in English can be challenging in Dubai schools, but the students have gained confidence in the language through the project, she said. Through letter writing, they see their English counterparts also make mistakes, making them less inhibited in both speaking and writing.

"We always make sure there is one person from the school who can help the students at a higher level with their English," she said.

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