DUBAI // Student teachers met an unusual if inspiring mentor yesterday - Adora Svitak, a child prodigy, writer and advocate of literacy.
At just 13 years of age, Miss Svitak has published two books, including Flying Fingers, a book on learning, and spoken at some of the world's leading education conferences.
Earlier this month, she appeared at the European Summit of International Schools, and yesterday she visited Dubai Women's College.
Miss Svitak, who is American, first taught in a classroom when she was seven and has been teaching via distance learning since she was 10.
She said that meeting the teachers from an education system that was still so young was an eye-opener.
The US education programme was much more mature, but it too had not changed much since its inception, she said.
"One thing that struck me here in the girls is the attitude that they feel they can't change things," Miss Svitak said. "Rules are rules, but on the other hand the girls realise that if they don't at least try, there is no chance of change.
"The girls have a sense that the system needs a radical shift so they do feel like pioneers. I got a sense that they're really building something up."
Amna al Thani, 22, was one of the four student teachers to meet Miss Svitak. She said that it was inspirational to meet the teenager, who had made her believe in the power of change.
"I was so excited to meet her," she said. "This young girl has written two books at such a young age and is already a teacher."
Ms al Thani is in her final year at the Dubai Women's College, and said she wanted to work in a government school when she graduates.
"There is so much work that needs to be done [in the government schools]," she said. "The kids wouldn't benefit from me in a private school like they would in a government school."
She added that the UAE's system of learning by rote must be updated to allow children to think for themselves and give teachers more creativity in their teaching methods. Ms al Thani said that a teacher had many pressures - from the ministry to the parents, the pupils and the principal.
"Adora made me realise the big difference between the UAE system [of learning by rote] and the US or UK systems. Here it's just like copy and paste. She made me really believe that we can bring about change," she said.
"She's made me believe that I can make these changes to the things that are important, like giving the kids more time to learn English. Forty-five minutes a day just isn't enough. It must be more."
Satya Klever, who is on the education faculty at the college, said: "The girls came away feeling inspired. It's tough for them in schools; there are lots of pressures on them. As much as we impress on them that they are the pioneers, they can feel very conflicted when they get into the schools."
Miss Svitak first began writing aged three and her first book was published four years later. She studies part-time online through the Washington Virtual Academy and part-time she attends Redmond Junior High School. She is also the youth representative for the United Nations World Food Programme.
Her mother, Joyce, who accompanies her around the world, said: "She has a very heavy travel schedule and this way she gets to go at her own pace and she will progress faster if she can. Her travel is not only work, but is about learning along the way."