Interview: Making Happiness

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Making happiness

a priority for schools, parents

He holds a PhD in Computer Engineering from the University of South Carolina. An engineer by trade, a leader by profession, and an educator at heart, Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director General of Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) plays an important role in redefining the private education sector in Dubai. In the recent years the private education landscape in Dubai has grown rapidly. KHDA is responsible for the growth and quality of private education in Dubai. To create a high quality education sector focused on happiness and well being, KHDA support schools, universities, parents, students, educators, investors and government partners.

The role of KHDA is to ensure that Dubai’s private schools are established and operate according to the highest standards of quality, in line with emirate’s law. A team of experts from KHDA continuously supervise private schools in Dubaiin the form of regular inspections
and international assessments. Being an inspirational leader,Dr Abdulla is responsible for a
wide spectrum of education in Dubai’s private sector, spanning early learning, school and
higher education and training institutes. Dr. Abdulla has the distinction of holding key
positions across the United Arab Emirates, as well as being a Board member of the National
Qualifications Authority of the UAE Federal Government. He is credited with his handson
approach in developing and implementing activities under the corporate wellness initiative
of the KHDA, including the ‘Thrive’ programme, which comprises a set of evidence-based actions that help transform the working environment and encourage employees to focus on their physical, nutritional, emotional and cognitive health, in order to improve their wellness at work and at home. KHDA is considered a role model for best practices in the region and a ‘must see’ benchmark for educational institutions and organisations that wish to improve their workplace health and wellbeing projects.

In an exclusive interview with Brainfeed, Dr Abdulla Al Karam, shares his roles at KHDA and the quality of education in UAE.

Q. KHDA started in 2006. In what way did KHDA contribute to the significant improvements in the education sector of Dubai?

We are a regulator by law and we started with a very strong regulatory arm. When we started, there was no school inspection or follow up. Our role has really been about making life easier for school owners and operators while creating more opportunities for parents and students to opt for higher quality education in Dubai. Since our inception, we have worked with schools, parents and investors to ensure continuous improvement in the quality of education while positioning Dubai as a leading regional education hub.

Q. Why has KHDA taken up the ‘Teach Together’ concept? Why do you want to assist teachers in their classrooms?

Teach Together came up as an idea to give back to teachers and it highlights our focus on increasing well being in schools. The initiative is part of our commitment to include teachers in the policy making process, giving them a voice in policies that affect their work. By assisting teachers in the classroom, I have been able to walk in their shoes, and better understand what makes them happy. It is a wonderful feeling when you see smiles on the
faces of little children who share happiness with you during their learning journey.

Q. What would you consider as the best education reform that KHDA has taken up?

One of our biggest achievements has been our ability to bring together teachers and educational leaders to foster a culture of collaboration and happiness among Dubai’s schools. We have seen a continuous improvement in the quality of education and today more students than ever study in ‘good’ or better schools in Dubai. This constant effort to become better than before has pushed our schools to innovate and explore new ideas.

Q. Can you tell us about Dubai’s education landscape?

Dubai has changed dramatically over the last three decades, becoming a major business centre with a more dynamic and diversified economy. More than 2,73,000 students are currently studying across 185 private schools in Dubai that offer 16 different curricula. Parents in Dubai have access to a wide variety of educational offerings and UK, Indian and US curriculum schools represent the three most popular curriculums in Dubai.

Q. What role does your government play in ensuring quality education to students in such a diverse range of settings?

Private education in Dubai has become increasingly robust and mature. There is greater choice when it comes to education and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of school offerings. Every year annual school inspection reports by Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) have helped build trust and transparency in the community and allowed parents to make an informed-choice. Each school receives an individualised school inspection report highlighting key areas of improvement.

Q What opportunities are available for new schools interested in setting-up in Dubai?

We are expecting a 10 per cent annual increase in student enrolment at private schools over the next five years and this will result in 80,000 additional students – which is the equivalent of approximately 10 new schools every year, depending on their size and type. As a regulator, we support new schools by offering a transparent regulatory environment and providing vital market data on the private education sector, which reassures investors that there will be no ‘surprises’ when it comes to building and opening a new school in Dubai.

Q. What makes a teacher happy at their work place in UAE?

There is no set formula for happiness but research suggests teachers are happier when they have regular opportunities to interact and share with colleagues.Being recognised and rewarded for their effort and achievement is also important to create a culture of happiness. One of the reasons we want our teachers to be happier is because they work with our children. When teachers feel positive and happy, they are more likely to have positive relationships with their students, which in turn have a positive effect on children’s
learning.

Q. What message would you like to give to the teachers?

Our education system has always focused on educating the brain and I think we have done that very well. Now it is time to go beyond and look at ways to educate people’s heart and soul. We should be working more on the social and emotional learning that talks about resilience, courage, empathy – some of the things that are really needed at this time. We are happy, we need to be happier and I think that’s as simple as it gets.

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