Education for your children is possibly one of the most significant issues to consider when living as an expat in the Middle East. Quite often it is the point that forms the essential part of the argument on whether people stay or go. The focus on education may be particularly heightened for expats in the Middle East, who without their third level qualifications would not be eligible to live in the UAE and therefore would be forced to stay home and possibly unemployed in Ireland. So it is understandable that people hone in on education and as all English speaking schools are private, the quest to find a school that at least lives up to its astronomical costs is ongoing.
My mind cast back to my own education, whilst I didn’t have the social standing of attending a private school or college, I did however, leave the public system with the academic standing to be able to proceed further in academic circles, I could have gone on to do law or medicine, if I wasn’t so interested in live music gigs and weekend long concerts. The teachers by and large were in it for the long haul and not one of them enrolled to teach in the city technical college with a view of leaving after two years and going back to west cork with a suntan and a smile and a photograph of themselves sitting on a camel.
Annual school fees for one child in English speaking school in Abu Dhabi is c. 55,000 Dirham’s, equivalent to Eu. 11,000. This invoice along with growing unemployment rates in Ireland, tend to awaken ones interest in schooling and the curriculum. In the past, my involvement with our school in Ireland was mainly, buying tickets for a fundraising fashion show and signing the homework journal which I never read, so assured was I in the competency of the Irish teachers and education system and furthermore so delighted that it was all free. Moving to the Middle East and forced into private education, the term fees and my hopes, were high.
Forfeiting the Junior and Leaving Cert for SAT’s and GCSC’s, was strange and the loss of Geography and History at primary level was another hit, no Battle of the Boyne, no Salmon of Knowledge, no idea where the Coomeragh Mountains were, or where the Shannon estuary began, all things I had imagined my children would learn. All this being said, life had to go on with or without the mountain ranges of Ireland and we headed into the British system with gusto. Determined to understand the system fully and take advantage of the private school benefits, small classes and state of the art school surroundings with no discipline issues, has to be good, right?
The parent teacher meeting proved a sole-destroying exercise as I got the feeling that each of the twelve teachers I met across primary and secondary, were enjoying their twenties living the dolce vita in Abu Dhabi for a couple of years but unfortunately for moi, they weren’t bringing anything to the table only a suntan and a whiter than white smile, full of inexperienced enthusiasm. Keen not to fall into the trap of taking these fresh faced graduates at face value, I looked for the proof of the pudding in my daughter’s copybook. I found was a myriad of information and a new strange language for marking papers, which I’d never heard before. “www”, what went well, “ebi” even better if, these abbreviations along with many others, were dotted here and there, making it impossible for me to determine, at a glance. The cleverly devised marking and assessment numbering system that appeared on the report card, again ensured that the parents would be given no insight into their child’s progress leaving the teacher staff well and truly covered. My personal favourite however was when I saw a child’s writing across my daughter’s homework essay, with comments, like, “very good”, “good sequencing”, unless the teachers were getting younger there was something awry here. Questioning my daughter, who promptly told me that this exercise was “pa” peer assessment. Now pardon me, but if I’m paying for a service, a service I expect to be provided by qualified UK and English speaking teachers, I do not expect my daughter’s homework to be corrected by twelve year old Fatima, who has a “One Direction” pencil case and speaks broken English as a second language. All I can say to that is, “ipft” I’m Paying for This?!