A Greener Doobuy?

This article recently appeared in the TES.

'Teaching in Dubai is exciting and energising'

This head of technology spends his days in Dubai ensuring that edtech has a positive impact on both pupils and the teachers

By George Stokes

It was with nervous excitement that, in July 2013, I moved from rainy London to Dubai, with no plan of how long I would stay. I had a sparse knowledge of the UAE but was tempted by the career opportunities and lifestyle benefits of being part of a young, vibrant teaching community.

I currently work at a school called the Arbor School, which is unlike any other school I have worked in before. It opened in September this year and is determined to be different. It teaches the English national curriculum through project-based learning with a focus on sustainability and eco-literacy.
Our teachers, students and their parents all believe in the school ethos: education with a conscience. The aim is that when our students leave school, they have a vigorous academic grounding, coupled with values and understanding of global issues, so that they can make a positive impact on the world around us.

The school is exceptionally well set up for students to improve their knowledge of ecology and nature with three temperature controlled bio-domes on site with hundreds of different plant species, and a variety of green spaces dotted around. Students are encouraged to show empathy by learning to care for animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, fish and even terrapins.

Like most schools in Dubai we have a wide and diverse range of nationalities, but nearly all are fluent English speakers. I am constantly in awe of students who speak multiple languages. It is a legal requirement in Dubai that children study the Arabic language in school, so it is very common for students in the UAE to speak English, Arabic as well as their mother tongue if English is not their first language.

One of my favourite days of the school year is International Day, when everybody wears traditional dress, brings food from their home country and comes together to celebrate diversity. This experience helps to set an example to our students about remaining curious and accepting of different cultures and religions.

As head of learning technology, I work with various teachers and students to improve the impact that teachnology is having in the classroom. The most rewarding moments occur when you walk around the school and see techniques that you’ve shown someone having a real positive impact on learning. The biggest challenge as a technology leader can be a lack of understanding about the role and the demands on your time from the different stakeholders around the school. My advice for any new learning technology leaders is to always prioritise the tasks that directly improve learning. Not losing sight of that is key.

In my spare time, a software developer friend of mine and I have been devoting our time to developing a mobile application called Springpad. It began because I wanted to resolve the grinding workload that most teachers face with traditional workbooks, the difficulty of storing any multimedia and the lack of access for parents. It seems archaic that teachers globally still print reams of paper, cut and stick it inside each of their student’s workbooks. The app improves learning through a seamless, paperless teacher-student-parent workflow.

Our partners schools in Dubai are now giving us feedback about how to improve the app. It’s a proud feeling to watch something you’ve spent such a long time working on and thinking about, helping students, teachers and parents as it was intended.
Teaching in Dubai has been an exciting and energising experience not only professionally, but personally. I met my wife Laura within the first year of moving here, and we are expecting our first baby in July, which promises to be the most exciting challenge yet.
George Stokes is the head of learning technology at Arbor School, Dubai
Quite a few commentators criticized this piece, so I tried to write a more balanced reply.

Well, let us try to be fair to George Stokes, please.
Yes, it is true that the UAE is horribly hot for about half the year. Just about everything, therefore, is air conditioned: cars, shopping malls, schools and your apartment. Life would be almost impossible without AC. But don't shopping malls, schools and apartments in the UK have heating in the winter months? Doesn't heating mean "exploiting fossil fuels", James Hatton? 
No, we did not stay in this 5-star hotel.
Yes, it is true that many labourers in the UAE come from the poorer countries in the world, such as India, Nepal and Pakistan. Jim Smith is probably right to suggest that Mr. Stokes is not going to come across them very often, as they are kept out of the sight of most westerners. No, these labourers do not have pleasant living conditions and I am sure that they do not live in a nice apartment like the one Mr. Stokes lives in, nor do they have their wives and children with them. But would these labourers really be better off staying at home? I do not think so. And does Mr Stokes's presence in the UAE make their lives better or worse? And if our friend George were not teaching at the Arbor School, then they would just hire someone else, whether from the UK, Canada, Ireland, the US or Australia.

Yet another Dubai mall
As for moaning about the "huge divide between rich and poor" in the UAE, Helen Pengelly, I am sure that you could find plenty of homeless people in London, as well as plenty of West End shops selling all kinds of luxuries.
It is certainly true that many teachers leave the UK and go overseas each year. (The UAE is not the only country in the world without democracy and human rights, by the way.) Perhaps if teaching in the UK were to become pleasanter and less stressful, then maybe fewer teachers would want to go to places like the UAE. However, it seems to me that teaching in the UK is becoming more and more difficult. 

The TES usually has lots of stories about teachers who have mental health problems, bullying SLTs, NQTs who are fed up and demoralized, headteachers with alcohol problems, and yet another visit from OFSTED. Therefore it seems to me to be unfair to criticize someone who has decided to escape from this. Maybe it's just jealousy.

Sand, shopping malls and motorways - yes, it's Dubai


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