Dubai teacher reflects on city's private education boom as she retires after 34 years

Celine Ribeiro went from taking classes in temporary classrooms to modern laboratories - and says the profession is far more stressful today

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A teacher who has worked for 34 years in Dubai has told of how dramatically education has changed over the past three decades.

Celine Ribeiro moved to Dubai to work as a teacher in September 1986.

She had worked as a Grade 1 teacher at Christ Church School in Mumbai, India, for 14 years.

After moving to the Emirates, Ms Ribeiro was offered a job at the Modern High School Dubai – now known as Gems Modern Academy.

She saw portable cabins refurbished to be small classrooms, where teachers gave lessons to pupils each day.

The introduction of technology into classrooms was the biggest change during my time. There is a lot more stress in education now

This week, the 68-year-old will retire after nearly 50 years of service to her profession.

“I taught in Portacabins when I first joined. It was extremely unusual,” said Ms Ribeiro.

“I came from Mumbai where the school was in a concrete building.

“When I moved here, not many people had heard of the UAE. I loved travelling and wanted to roam the world.

“Here, it was cramped but interesting. Just some basic furniture was in place and we had only two teachers and less than 100 pupils at the school.”

Ms Ribeiro said she witnessed the school’s population grow to the current 3,600.

She has been a teacher at the school even after it changed names and campuses.

From a makeshift arrangement, the school finally moved to a campus on Sheikh Zayed Road in 1988, where it stayed for 21 years.

As Gems Modern Academy expanded, the school moved to a bigger campus in Nad Al Sheba in 2009.

“Leaving the campus on Sheikh Zayed Road was heart-wrenching. We had been there for 21 years and it was home,” she said.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, December 8 – Celine Riberio, head of policy and compliance at the meditation garden at the Gems Modern Academy Nad Al Sheba 3 in Dubai. She loves to spend some time in the meditation garden every day. She is from India and retiring this week after 34 years of service. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online. Story by Anam

Ms Ribeiro said she witnessed the boom of private education in Dubai.

“When we moved to Nad Al Sheba, there was just one other school and soon there were four schools in the cluster,” she said.

“A decade ago, the number of schools increased and we would hear of new schools opening every year.”

Ms Ribeiro taught English, mathematics, social science, science, art and craft to Grade 1 pupils. She then taught Grade 3 and was later promoted as the head of policy and compliance at Gems Modern Academy.

“The introduction of technology into classrooms was the biggest change I saw during my time,” she said.

“There is a lot more stress in education now.

“Now, there are inspections to keep schools on their toes and to ensure they keep up with the times.

“Education has had a paradigm shift. Teachers look at catering to individual learners’ needs.”

Ms Ribeiro said there were only a few private schools in the city when she moved to the UAE. Buses and the Metro did not exist and people commuted through cars or shared taxis.

"There were no buses or Metro and we did not travel around the emirate much," she said.

"Teaching was completely different. Teachers used to be on the stage and children would do group work. Now, teaching is a lot more structured.

"Life in schools was very simple at the time."

Ms Ribeiro said teachers had to be self-reliant as there were no online resources to plan lessons.

After being in the profession for nearly 50 years, she has mentored generations of pupils.

She now plans to go back to her native Mumbai and work for the community.

In the UAE, she has worked with many charitable groups, community drives and relief campaigns for tsunami and earthquake victims.

Nargish Khambatta, principal of the school, said Ms Ribeiro would be missed by the community after teaching pupils for so long.

“A teacher like Celine makes a difference to entire generations. She is always first in school and the last to go home. She is known for this as ‘The Iron Lady of Modern’," said Ms Khambatta.