Tag Archives: Education

LETTING GO : Getting ready for nursery

 

Nursery 5

Art Village Nursery Open Day

This would be the hardest decision I would have to make.

My baby girl wrapped her arms around my neck as we walked in to our first nursery open day. I thought it was going to be as easy as it had been for my other children, but Amalia just held on. The teachers at Art Village Nursery invited Amalia to take a seat next to them and paint, but she wasn’t interested. I knew she would take time to warm up. Even my older daughters, aged 12, 11 and nine, now all sitting around the table and painting masks, were unsuccessful in encouraging Amalia to take part in all the wonderful activities on offer.

And then it dawned on me: how was I going to let go? I had quite forgotten about the challenges I now faced in sending a child off to nursery for the first time.

Deciding whether to keep Amalia home for another year or send her to a nursery was playing on my mind. Following our recent visit home to Australia, I realised how much she enjoyed spending time with children her own age. Although she plays regularly with her sisters, it’s not the same. Watching her learn to share toys was fascinating. In the beginning she screamed and struggled with her cousins, but as the days and weeks passed Amalia learned to share.

Now, more than ever, nursery is becoming more of a necessity for her development.

It has been seven years since I had a child in nursery and I feel as if I am back at square one, searching and investigating all the possibilities before I make a final decision.

In 2008, when I moved to the United Arab Emirates, 32 weeks pregnant with my third child, Abu Dhabi was a developing city, and unlike Dubai, nurseries were scarce and fees were high. Every door I knocked on was quickly closed. “Sorry, we’re full,” was the common response. These nurseries were plush; nothing was comparable to what was on offer back home in Sydney, Australia.

Nursery Image 1

Janah & Serene ready for nursery in Abu Dhabi

Eventually I did find something: a Montessori nursery close to where we settled. Then came the shock. Janah, now 12, had to sit for an interview with the nursery director, who was very selective of whom she would take in. As a mother, I felt intimidated and nervous. What if my child wasn’t good enough?

Thankfully, Janah met all the requirements; however, I was surprised that a nursery could be so selective of such young children. The director said she didn’t want any “disruptive” children, and in a split second my eyes shot across to my second child, Serene, who was becoming rowdy and restless as her baby sister slept behind her in the pram.

So much has changed. Although the selection of nurseries is now wider and the choices better, letting go of Amalia is the real challenge. While she was very apprehensive in the beginning, she began to settle down and enjoy what was on offer at Art Village Nursery. It’s important that the children also visit the nursery during open day, to see how they interact with teachers.

The nursery boasts 11 rooms including a library, atelier (Art & Design room), dining room and Dance & Movement room. In the outdoor area there are the all-important sand area, slide area, and gardening area. For safety reasons the nursery does not have a swimming pool but it does offer lots of water activities.

Once I knew Amalia was settled, it was my cue to catch up with Nina Farokhfal, the managing director, to learn more about this award-winning nursery.

She reassured me that all parents have the option of staying with their child on their first day, until he or she had settled in. I don’t recall this being an option at any other nursery I had visited over the years. If possible, it’s certainly an option every parent should take up, as there is nothing more frightening for a child than to be dropped off at a strange place with no familiar faces around.

Ms Farokhfal recalled being traumatised as a child when her parents dropped her off at a nursery in Germany, shortly after immigrating from Iran and unable to speak the language.

Located in Jumeriah 2, the Art Village Nursery is a branch of the award-winning Amadeus Preschool in Stockholm, Sweden. It is a Reggio Emilia inspired nursery, which values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge.

“When a parent is searching for a nursery they should look for one that meets their needs,” Ms Farokhfal said.

At Art Village Nursery, she added, children take part in the four areas of learning: Song & Music, Dance & Movement, Theatre & Drama, and Art & Design. They explore each area throughout their day, making learning fun and engaging while at the same time developing their educational, emotional, social and creative capabilities.

Throughout my chat with Ms Farokhfal, Amalia was nowhere to be seen. There were no more tears, just laughter as I walked in on her and her older sister playing in the toddlers’ room. The experience was a little more difficult on me than on her, as it simply confirmed that my baby girl was ready for nursery. It was also a reminder that it takes a child time to settle in to a new environment.

Art Village Nursery will certainly be on my shortlist when we decide next year where to send Amalia to nursery.

 

Art Village Nursery accepts children from 1 to 4 years. The nursery is also affiliated with Hartland International School and Clarion School. Registration for the 2017 – 2018 academic school year are open. For more details please call +971 4 288 6502 or email info@artvillagenursery.com. You can also visit www.artvillagenursery.com

[Disclaimer: This story is sponsored by Art Village Nursery]

 

 

 

 

Education is a right and not a privilege

Finding the right school is not always easy

Finding the right school is not always easy

Serene crawled into my bed and placed her head on my shoulder. I could feel the dampness on her cheek. She was crying.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, as she placed her arms tighter around my neck. “I don’t want to go to school,” she sobbed. “I don’t want to do the Arabic exam.” I reached over to get my phone to check the time. It was 6am. My daughter had woken up stressed and anxious.
It had been an extremely stressful week in our house; Serene and Janah, my eldest, had spent most of their afternoon studying intensely for their end-of-term exams.
From the beginning of the 2014–2015 school year, there was a sudden shift in the way they were being taught. Within the first two weeks of returning to school, the students, from K-12 sat standardisation tests for their core subjects. Parents were not notified. Everyday my three girls came home recounting how they’d missed another lesson due to the testing.
Parents were puzzled. What had brought on this sudden change and why weren’t parents informed?
Did it have something to do with the school’s poor ranking from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai’s governing body for private education? The school scored ‘Acceptable’.
But was increasing homework and class quizzes the answer? As a parent I became very concerned. My children were forced to give up afterschool extracurricular activities just to keep up with the demand.
Before you think I’m another whinging mother, I’m not! My daughters are not 16 and 17 years old, studying for their final year of school. They’re 6, 7 and 9 years old.

These are their foundation years, a critical period in which they either begin to love school and learning or hate it.

I am trying desperately to avoid the latter.

Without support teachers can't do their job.

Without support teachers can’t do their job.

When I first moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in 2008, my husband and I had a goal for our children. We wanted our daughters to learn Arabic and the best way to do it was to send them to a school where they could mix with native Arabic-speaking children. We were living in Arabia and we had a unique opportunity to teach them about Middle Eastern culture and learn the language. While my husband is fluent in Arabic, I speak the language but can’t read and write. We didn’t want a generation in our family growing up not knowing the language of their ancestors. While the girls have progressed with the support of the school and an Arabic tutor, we’re beginning to see that our children are missing out in other parts of their schooling.
Did we make the right decision in enrolling our children in a school where teachers taught the way my mother and father were taught as children in the Middle East? Students are spoon-fed information, expected to memorise it and then examined on the content. They have not been on a school outing in many years. Teachers are overworked and underpaid; class sizes are too large while the classrooms are too small. My daughter’s Year 3 class room is so small that she can barely wheel her school bag out from the back of the room.
I consulted many parents at the school hoping to find some comfort. They too had similar concerns about their child’s education. Many revealed they were home schooling as their child was not receiving the necessary attention in class.
As I child I recall having one teacher and then specialist teachers for music, arts, and sport. I know this is still the case in many international schools throughout the UAE; many even have a teacher’s aide. At the school my daughters attend, they see eight different teachers for 45 minutes per subject. With this in mind I took the next step to speak with the teachers who I felt would be honest about the school’s attitude to education.
The majority of teachers at the school are from Lebanon and Syria with a few Western and European teachers thrown into the mix. They’ve expressed their desire to see the teaching system changed, but their cries have fallen on deaf ears.
A Year 2 maths teacher told me that she would never send her child to a school where there were 30 students in each class. “I teach 150 students a day,” she said. “By the end of the day I am exhausted.”
The Arabic teacher echoed the maths teacher’s concern,

“You can’t blame the teachers when the school doesn’t know what direction it wants to go in,” she said.

Serene’s tears confirmed our decision to move the girls in the new school year. The pressure they were under at such a young age is unfair and unnecessary.

I enlisted the help of James Mullan, co-founder of WhichSchoolAdvisory.com, an independent education website ranking schools across the UAE. Since its establishment in 2013, the website has had over two million hits.
His advice is simple, “different parents will have different requirements of the school. Talk to parents to find out what is actually happening. What are the children getting from that education?”
What should I be looking for when researching a new school?
Mullan says parents should follow these simple criteria.
1. Fees: Is it affordable?
2. Reputation: Does it have a good reputation?
3. Academic results: Ask the school to provide you with their academic results. Be demanding.
4. Added value: Some schools will say, for instance, it’s not about academic results but the value they add. Not every child is academic but may show strengths in other areas such as music, sports and the arts.
More importantly, after narrowing down the school list, Mullan adds, “go and visit the school, but not on an Open Day. Visit it on a working day with the child and allow your child to decide. As long as the school has ticked all the boxes, let your child meet the teachers, see the children, sports and wait to see his or her reaction.”

James Mullan

James Mullan

The UAE has evolved rapidly over the last decade with the development of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeriah and gated communities. Mullan says while you can magic infrastructure, you can’t magic education.

“Education needs nurturing, it takes care and time and that’s one of the things that everyone needs to be aware of including the people building schools, investing in schools, teachers, and parents. We are still living in an evolving experiment each day and you’re signing up for that in every sphere of your life.”

What about choosing the right curriculum?
According the Mullan, there are 17 curriculums on offer in the UAE, with the British curriculum favoured by one-third of private school.
“You’ve got to think about where you’ll be with your children in the coming years,” he says. “It’s not so much an issue in the early years in primary schools, but it is when you get to secondary schools. You’ve got to be thinking seriously about what you want to do. It’s a case-by-case situation.”

The cost of education in the UAE is astronomical and remains one of the most talked about issues in the country.

Unlike a decade ago when expats were presented with lavish salaries, which included additional education funding, today it’s part of the overall package. Expats on low incomes have no choice but to send their children to private schools; public schooling in the UAE is only available to UAE nationals.
Tuition for the 2014–2015 school year at Gems World Academy (GWA) for a six-year-old is AED71,092 (USD19,477) and over AED98,000 (USD26,800) for a Year 12 student, says the school’s website.
If a parent were to send their child to GWA, starting from KG2 through to Year 12,

tuition would cost a whopping AED1,060,160 (USD290,454) over the course of their schooling.

Gems World Academy Dubai

Gems World Academy Dubai

According to WhichSchoolAdvisory.com, in 2013–2014 school year, Gems World Academy, established in 2008, attained a ‘Good’ rating from the KHDA, the Dubai Government regulator entrusted with overseeing the growth and development of private education in the emirate.
Compare this to one of the best-known independent schools in New South Wales, Australia. Established in 1831, The King’s School Parramatta, has seen Crown Princes, leaders of political parties, authors, actors, leaders in law, medicine and in a wide range of other professionals educated at the boys’ school.
The tuition cost to educate a six-year-old boy at The Kings School is AED 48,482 (USD13,282). From K-12, it would cost his parents AED 88,624 (USD241,540).
GWA is situated on 42,715 sq. metres of land and boasts state-of-the-art facilities, Planetarium, 400m athletic track, 6-lane 50m pool, tennis courts, gymnasium, fitness centre, climbing wall, 620-seater auditorium, symphony centre, and peace garden.
This brings me to my next question: are parents paying for education or facilities at a UAE school?
“You should be paying for both education and facilities,” says Mullan. “Certain schools have fantastic facilities, but you often wonder how often they’re used.”
He adds: “One of the challenges that the UAE is going to face is that there is going to be a massive crunch on teaching talent over the next ten years. There is a huge development in the number of international schools around the world, so what that means is that top teachers will be able to choose where they want to go. In other words, schools here have to make it attractive for them to come here in terms of salary, conditions, but also in terms of Continued Professional Development (CPD), which is an area, when you speak to teachers here, that is missing. What you tend to get in schools here is what we call the backpacker teachers, young teachers who are out of college, stay for two years and then move on. Then you get mums who have been teachers, on their husband’s visa, who are then employed on a local contract. They receive a chunk of money and no additional benefits, and that saves the school a considerable amount of money, but going forward, is that going to be good enough?”
What about waiting lists?
Before we wrap up, Mullan has some promising news for parents. More than 20,000 places became available in September this year, as new schools opened across Dubai. Believe it or not, we could even see a drop in school fees.
So where does this leave me and my children?
I’ve taken James Mullan’s advice and spoken to parents from many different schools. I’ve lodged some applications and now it’s time to sit and wait. I’m just hoping we make the right decision.

Follow me on Twitter: @my_arabia
Instagram: @arabianmum
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/author.Taghred

Do you have a similar experience? Leave your comments below.

Battling the Arabian heat

Cooling off in Arabia

Cooling off in Arabia

As I write this piece, I’m sitting poolside watching Janah – my eldest – taking part in another intense swim-squad training session. Recalling the Abu Dhabi heat when I arrived, I’m now tempted to jump in and cool off alongside her . . .


“Call me when the driver arrives,” I told Tarek, grabbing my little girls by the hand and walking back in through the doors of Abu Dhabi International Airport.

I could hear Tarek laughing, the sweat dripping from his forehead and his T-shirt soaking wet.

“I warned you about the heat,” he replied, standing on the sidewalk and flagging the company driver who was parked some distance away.
“You warned me?” I snapped as I continued to walk back inside.

What he should’ve told me was to spend the day at the spa, shifting back and forth between the steam room and sauna, catching the cool blast from the air-conditioned room separating them.

No one can really prepare you for the sizzling summer temperatures when you move to the desert. In Arabia we spend three to four months of the year indoors. Spring is usually from March to May but temperatures really begin to soar in early May, jumping from 33°C and often reaching highs of 47°C – it’s at this time you see families rushing indoors, back into air-conditioned rooms, desperately looking to find new ways to entertain their children. Swimming in the sea is not an option as the water temperature also begins to rise.

Desert sun....hot summer days force families indoors between May - September in Arabia

Desert sun….hot summer days force families indoors between May – September in Arabia

We begin to see the weather cooling slightly in late September as we head into autumn. From October to December the temperatures drop significantly; it is a little cooler in the winter months but there is no blizzard. However we often have to deal with the harsh sandstorms; breathing dust while the sandy grains exfoliate our skin. For my friends who live in a villa, the most common complaint is the amount of sand blowing under their doors and through their window seals into their homes. I don’t see any reason why they complain; they all have maids to clean up the mess.

Looking back on my first summer in Abu Dhabi, I think I handled it well considering I was 32 weeks pregnant with two small children demanding to be picked up and carried.

There were times when I opened the fridge, reaching for a bottle of chilled water or lemonade. Without pouring it into a glass, I placed the bottle to my mouth and just guzzled it, desperately trying to quench my thirst. “I can survive this,” I told myself. “Get a grip.”

In Sydney, we often experienced heat waves – air-conditioners stopped working and as a child I remember my father turning on the garden hose so we could play with the water. At lunch mum often placed a large bowl of watermelon on the table and told us to cool down.

A few weeks after I arrived in Abu Dhabi, I had a sudden burst of energy and the need to go outside and take the girls for a walk. I could no longer sit, cooped-up in a small hotel apartment with two little girls bouncing off the walls.

I bundled them into a stroller, we put on sunscreen and hats, and I began pushing them around the city. Men and women stared, looking back at me as though I was mad. While everyone else was seeking shelter in air-conditioned apartments and offices, I was heavily pregnant and pushing two little girls around the city.

As I walked further and further into the city, I realised that Abu Dhabi streets were not pedestrian friendly. Motorists refused to stop for anyone at a pedestrian crossing and the street curb was high, which meant I needed to use all of my strength to lift the pram off the road and onto the footpath. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. Janah and Serene were fairly quiet during the walks, Serene would fall asleep while Janah sat still observing the people and the stores. When I felt tired, I’d seek refuge in an air-conditioned pharmacy or supermarket, catch my breath and continue on my way.

Back at the hotel, when I turned on the cold water tap and ran the water for the girls’ bath, the water was so warm – on most days I would pour cold bottled water into the bath to cool it down.

Serene (L) & Janah (R) during our earlier years in the UAE

Serene (L) & Janah (R) during our earlier years in the UAE

I’ve been in the United Arab Emirates now for six years – no one ever really gets used to living in these conditions but over time you learn to adapt. Those who can, leave for most of the summer while schools are on break and families that stay behind find themselves trawling malls, in play centres or cooling off in Ski Dubai.

Follow me on Twitter
@my_arabia

Follow me on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/author.taghred

Instagram
@arabianmum