DUBAI // Abdul Rahman Al Marzouqi struggled to get pupils passionate about education when he worked at a government school for boys as a guidance counsellor.
He says he was unable to do much to steer the youngsters on to the right path.
"Most of them did not know why they were studying," he said. "There was no career counselling. And boys would often want to quit before they completed school."
After working in the state school for 14 years, Mr Al Marzouqi was pleasantly surprised when he joined the Applied Technology High School (Aths) in Dubai in 2006.
"I was so used to the disinterested looks on faces every day that when I met the boys at Aths I was filled with joy."
Pupils at Aths have ambitions, said Mr Al Marzouqi, and "we show them the path to achieve them".
Like most pupils at Aths, 18-year-old Abdulla Omar Al Ali studied up to Grade 9 in a regular state school. "I just cannot compare between Aths and my old school," he said. "Here, I get more than I expected. They teach you subjects you are interested in."
Abdulla, who will be graduating from the engineering science track this year, has already gained workplace experience through internships in Germany.
"I would never have got those opportunities in the other schools."
He has applied to universities like the Khalifa University and Petroleum Institute to complete his education. "And then I may go on to do a doctorate."
Ahmed Abdulla Al Awar, 19, is also in his final year at the technical school. Because they are taught in English, he said, they will not face difficulties at the university level. "Most courses are in preparation for higher education programmes."
And giving back to the community is a quality Saif Saqer Sultan, 18, said he gained after joining Aths.
"We clean compounds, volunteer at hospital," he said. "And it's nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, it's a valuable experience."
The Institute of Applied Technology is working with the Ministry of Education and Abu Dhabi Education Council to revamp the high-school system and produce similar results.
Warren Baugher, principal of the Aths campus in Dubai said: "The reason pupils here are more motivated is because we have higher expectations from them."
The curriculum is more demanding and the instruction day is much longer at Aths.
The school also runs a Student Adult Mentoring programme, where 10 pupils are assigned to a teacher who guides them through the year.
"Young men need advocates, and they can find them in teachers," said Mr Baugher.