My father was bright and motivated enough to take full advantage of the educational opportunities that began to become available to Emirati citizens in the 1970s. After receiving his bachelor’s in Cairo and working for a few years in Abu Dhabi, he and my mother received scholarships from the government to hone their English-language skills and pursue their master’s in the US.
The provisions of the scholarship ensured they could bring the entire family along.
We were all whisked away to California, where I was to get my first taste of the American education system at the elementary level, while my parents received a more concentrated dose pursuing their theses.
Some of my recollections of American schools include creative art classes, taking care of the classroom hamster and smiley stickers next to my name on the board. All were a world away when I returned to a private school in Sharjah, replaced by dull science classes, taking care to avoid corporal punishment and scowling teachers placing your name on a detention board.
So when my father scooped up the whole family once again in pursuit of his PhD, in England this time, I thought I had been rescued.
The scowling teachers, their physical discipline and their drab teaching styles were still present, only changing in appearance.
My father didn’t have it much better at the doctorate level, where his graduation was delayed a whole year by one board member who did not like his dissertation.
When he did finally receive his PhD in journalism, his first order of business on returning was to write an article negatively comparing the British education system with the American – an opinion I wholeheartedly shared after my secondary education experience.
To make certain that future students were aware of what they were signing up for, the Ministry of Higher Education displayed my father’s article in their offices for an extended period of time, no doubt influencing a few decisions.
Being his eldest son, I had no say in the matter, and would have picked a return to the far West even if I did.
The ability to delay choosing an emphasis of study until the end of the second year, the more diverse curriculum and the easier access to professors convinced not only me but also an increasing number of British students to choose the US higher education model of the UK’s.
Another aspect that still attracts me to the US model is the presence of mature (as in returning) students, such as myself, on campuses across the states.
A wider age range in the class brings added depth in diversity and experience that can only benefit the students.
Many working Emiratis are now returning to receive their diplomas, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees at public universities based on the US system. As opposed to many nations which are flooded with degree holders who are increasingly unemployed and overqualified, UAE citizens are encouraged to and rewarded for receiving additional education.
Furthermore, UAE public and private universities based on the American system are increasingly attracting students from around the world and turning the country into a regional educational hub.
A system with greater choices and more flexibility has and will continue to improve and expand education in the region.
Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US