Mariamma Varkey, towering figure of UAE education, dies

Tributes paid to Indian teacher who arrived in Dubai in 1959

Mariamma Varkey, a pioneering force in the UAE's education sector, has died at the age of 89, Gems Education confirmed on Wednesday.

She came to Dubai in 1959 and set up the institution that became the foundation of Gems.

Varkey was a towering figure of the education landscape, an inspiration to generations and a distinguished Indian resident of the country.

She was the mother of Gems founder and chairman Sunny Varkey and grandmother of Dino Varkey, present chief executive of Gems.

Madam Varkey will first and foremost be remembered as a beloved mother and grandmother but also as a teacher and pioneer in education, whose impact transcends generations

"We confirm the passing of Madam Mariamma Varkey, the mother of Gems Education founder and chairman Mr Sunny Varkey," said a Gems Education official.

"Madam Varkey will first and foremost be remembered as a beloved mother and grandmother, but also as a teacher and pioneer in education, whose impact transcends generations.

"Her humanitarian contributions focused on the learning development of girls and the advancement and recognition of teachers, with her legacy rooted in her unrelenting belief in the power of quality education to better society.”

Nasser Al Shaikh, chair of Emirates National Holdings and former director general of Dubai Department of Finance, said she was an extraordinary individual.

"My heart goes to the Varkey family ... may Madam Varkey’s soul rest in peace," he wrote on Twitter.

"An extraordinary individual who’s deeply rooted in the development of Dubai’s education scene prior to the formation of the UAE. My sincerest condolences."

The annual Mariamma Varkey Award for Inspirational and Outstanding Teaching sought to raise the status of the teaching profession and recognise the best teachers working in Gems schools.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Dino Varkey at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2019 at Atlantis, The Palm.  Leslie Pableo for The National for Anam Rizvi's shorty

The award celebrated Mariamma Varkey's passion for teaching.

"The Mariamma Varkey Award is particularly close to my heart, as it reflects the high standards set by my grandmother when she first arrived in Dubai as a teacher 60 years ago," Dino Varkey, said in 2019.

"Thanks to her efforts and unwavering vision, Gems Education is what it is today and it gives us great pleasure to host this special award in her honour.”

Varkey came to what was then the Trucial States from Kerala, in south-west India.

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed was Ruler of Dubai and had plans to turn Dubai into a major trading and business hub.

Education was crucial to this vision and people such as Varkey helped build the foundations of the world-class education system in Dubai today.

From that school founded in 1959, Gems has grown to a leading international independent school provider across the globe.