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Teach social skills to a youngster and a wiser adult emerges

How do we expect young children to lead if they were not taught to do so, just like with reading and writing, from a young age?

One of the things I appreciated about my American school was the annual spring festival. Besides the international dance shows, games and catered junk food, I looked forward to witnessing the ability of many students to turn into effective salespeople for the night.

Every year, students picked a certain cause for which to raise money. And before the end of the night, the amount targeted was raised, all thanks to the hard work and efforts of the students.

It is amazing what skilled marketers young children are when given the chance. Students were always passionate about the cause they were supporting. I believe that passion is the main reason behind their success, and any kind of success for that matter. Whether they were selling pens, or homemade cupcakes, they knew how to clinch a sale by making customers feel guilty if they did not wish to buy.

"It's baked with love, and sprinkled with hope to help those in need. Spending Dh5 [US$1.36] will not turn you into a poor woman, but would mean the world to someone," they would say with a sweet little smile, which would result in you purchasing a box filled with cupcakes.

Every year, I have left the festival surprised at the young children's ability to make a sale. Given that they have no background in marketing or PhD in business, they can put many much older, professional marketers to shame.

There they were negotiating, showcasing and pitching their products to hundreds of parents and visitors. At the end of the evening, they usually left feeling like champions. And they were, for their efforts helped to change many lives.

It is definitely no coincidence that the majority of the students of my school were comfortable pitching their products and public speaking. And it all boils down to the school's environment to equip them with these necessary skills.

Besides the annual spring festival, my school held different social functions that young children were in charge of, and ultimately helped to nurture their leadership skills: there were numerous charity bake sales, the annual science fair exhibition in which each student talked about their science invention or demo in the hope of being crowned Scientist of the Year, and the anticipated student body elections.

What I find interesting about the elections is the miniature political campaigns and debates that the whole school witnessed. Banners were pasted through our hallways and badges were given to students by the nominees.

At the school's auditorium we gathered to listen to the president and vice president nominees' speeches, how they were willing to make changes, and voice our concerns to the administration. Students were given a chance to be young leaders, to drive and initiate change, to meet students regularly and address their concerns. They were trained to handle responsibility at a very young age.

My school has provided examples of what public schools in the UAE and the region should adopt. The skills many successful people are equipped with are better nurtured at a young age, and of course through constant encouragement from schools.

When I later enrolled in university in the United Kingdom, I realised just how lucky I was to have gone to the school that I did. I was shocked at many Arabian Gulf students' inability to stand up in front of their classmates to present their project and discuss it, even though they were intelligent. They blamed their schools for not equipping them with the necessary skills.

The schools these students attended followed strict disciplinary models in which no students were expected to speak unless spoken to. Public speeches, classroom presentations, debates, charity drives and annual bazaars were unheard of. For most of the students I met, their first public speech, project or presentation was made when they were more than 18 years old, and that is very sad.

Universities are not the place where one should learn skills such as debating and public speaking. How do we expect young children to lead if they were not taught to do so, just like with reading and writing, from a young age?

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi.

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