Portrait of a Nation: Education leader's rallying call for more Emirati teachers

Aldar Education chief executive Sahar Cooper said education is the answer to many of society's challenges

The biog

Favourite films: Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia

Favourite books: Start with Why by Simon Sinek and Good to be Great by Jim Collins

Favourite dish: Grilled fish

Inspiration: Sheikh Zayed's visionary leadership taught me to embrace new challenges.

A long list of achievements decorates Sahar Cooper’s remarkable 25 year career as an education leader.

But there remains one burning ambition still in her sights before she considers any notion of retirement.

Having lived and worked in the UAE for 20 years, she continues to recognise the importance of recruiting Emirati teachers.

And today, she believes that only by encouraging more men and women from the country to join the profession can the nation maintain its existing success.

"We want more Emiratis to consider teaching in the future, Ms Cooper told The National.

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It is a great time to be in this career. Not only in the classroom but also management.

“I have lived here for 20 years and I am committed to the future of education in this country.

“We know there are Emiratis who graduated with education, Arabic, or science who want to become teachers - we want to support that.

“It is a very rewarding profession, to enable a young student to be our leaders of tomorrow.”

Ms Cooper began her teaching career at the Girne American University in Cyprus.

Later, she moved on to join the UAE’s American University of Sharjah as its commercial manager.

Since then, she has gone on to devote almost two decades to various educational platforms across the country, including a role as chief schools operation officer at Gems Education, one of the largest private education providers in the Emirates.

“I was inspired early in my career by the commitment of the UAE to bring quality education to this country,” she said.

“Gems education was experiencing rapid growth and I was helping to open hundreds of schools worldwide with different curriculum.”

After leaving Gems, Ms Cooper joined Aldar Education, another leading education provider, as their chief executive.

She has already been in the role for 18 months, with the number of its employees increasing from 600 to more than 2,000 under her stewardship.

Aldar Education supports 20,000 students across seven academies, six charter schools and four managed Adnoc schools. It also runs a nursery in Abu Dhabi.

According to Ms Cooper, striking a balance between driving business and understanding classroom needs is the key to achieving long-term goals in education.

“Schools are no longer about preparing children for a predefined set of possible careers,” she said.

“It is rather a multiplicity of roles and industries so schools have become more of a learning environment than teaching in blocks.

“We need to understand how education works to help children flourish.

“I have faced the same challenges as children face now, growing in an uncertain world where we don’t know what the opportunities will be in the future.

“As a woman, there have been challenges but it is all about self confidence and self respect.

“It is about being at the right place at the right time, having independence and drive.

“I have never seen myself as different, but equal in competence to any man.”

Today, Ms Cooper is working on plans to partner with the Department of Education and Knowledge in Abu Dhabi and the Human Resource Authority in the capital to put Emirati graduates through a teaching apprenticeship programme.

The idea is to ensure there is enough supply of national teachers at all levels of schooling.

“I want to see a strong education programme across the country as we are an Emirati company committed to shaping the country through young people while providing a sustainable supply of teachers,” she said.

“It is a great time to be in this career. Not only in the classroom but also management.”

The biog

Favourite films: Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia

Favourite books: Start with Why by Simon Sinek and Good to be Great by Jim Collins

Favourite dish: Grilled fish

Inspiration: Sheikh Zayed's visionary leadership taught me to embrace new challenges.

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