Mother and daughter in a class of their own

When the opportunity arose for Manal Yahatu to get an education, she decided she wouldn't be the only family member in the classroom.

Manal Yahatu, left, and her daughter Ahlam al Dahnani are both studying business at Dubai Women's College. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // As Manal Yahatu walked hand in hand with her daughter, Ahlam al Dahnani, to the enrolment office of the Higher College of Technology, she had a surprise up her sleeve.

Ahlam, 19, thought she was just along for the ride as her Emirati mother registered as a mature student. Little did she realise she too would be signing up.

Mrs Yahatu has spent most of her adult life in school and is determined to continue her education. Ahlam, meanwhile, had no intention of studying, preferring to stay at home.

But her mother had other plans for her. Having missed out on school and university when she herself was younger, she was convinced her daughter would regret doing the same.

Ahlam had previously refused to provide her school, Al Raya School in Jumeirah, with the paperwork it needed to enrol her. This time, her mother had the papers in her bag.

Now parent and daughter are studying business and are in their fourth term. Mrs Yahatu, a mother of seven from Dubai, considers herself a role model for other mothers who did not have the luxury of going to college.

"I wanted to go in and finish, I didn't want to stay at home," said Mrs Yahatu. "It is more than millions to me, the same feeling as when you get money. I want to be an example to all of the Emirati community.

"I try to encourage others [Emirati mothers] to study. They say it is difficult, but I say no, it is very easy. Some want to sit at home, they don't want to study, but here there is free education. I don't need to pay for anything - even for the laptop they give us.

"Mothers need to study nowadays. They must study."

Although some students might not welcome their mothers being in such proximity to their social life, Ahlam, now 20, insisted she could not be happier.

"It isn't supervision," she said. "She helped me a lot in the beginning - she was with me for the first three days until I was relaxed and made friends, and then she shifted to evening classes. If I didn't continue I would have regretted it."

Now they are almost on shifts at university. Ahlam is in from 9am to 3.30pm, when her mother comes in after her day job at Barclays bank. She then stays until 7.30pm.

Staff at the university could be hardly more thrilled by the mother-daughter duo, and hoped they would be an example for others.

"There are thousands of people - Emirati men and women - who don't have enough education," said Dr Howard Reed, the director of Dubai Women's College.

This September, his college will start a campaign to attract more mature students, an area he admitted had previously been neglected.

He said he hoped that businesses would help their Emirati staff to take advantage of the opportunity to go to university.

Ahlam, too, has been lobbying her friends to bring their mothers to university. "My best friend is always telling her mum, 'Look at my friend, her mum is studying with her,'" she said. As well as helping each other in classes they missed, she said having her mother there on campus had given her more freedom.

"When our parents know what is going on, why we need to go to some places with our friends, it makes education easier for you," she said. "And it is a good chance for parents to watch their children."

The one downside is that for Ahlam, every day is parents' day, as her mother checks up on her progress in all her classes.

"The teachers say she is very good, they are proud of us," Mrs Yahatu said. "We encourage each other to get good grades because now expectations are high."