Mubarak al Mansoori left school in grade 10, at 16, to have a good time. "I was enjoying my life," he said. "We were playing with cars, listening to music - like any other teenagers." Now 21, Mr al Mansoori admits: "It's difficult to get a job without a high school diploma." And so he is studying at the Vocational Education Development Centre (VEDC), a boarding school on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi with a daunting mission: bringing wayward youth back into the educational system.
Mr al Mansoori was lured to VEDC after his older brother joined, but made the decision largely because it could lead to employment. In another year he will graduate with a diploma and a job at the Al Shuiahat Power Plant. Part of the school's success in getting students back into the system is the promise that they can earn a decent living, said Dr Khodair Abid al Obeidi, VEDC's senior manager. For example, some VEDC graduates now working as operators in a power plant earn around Dh20,000 (US$5,445) a month.
"If companies invest in nationals, it is better in the long term," said Dr al Obeidi. "You can bring people from all over the world, but ultimately expats are here temporarily. The extra investment in local manpower is well worth it." Salman Rashid, 17, was an at-risk case who joined VEDC after failing three grades in a Sharjah public high school due to problems in math and science. "Of course there is a sense of shame of being an older student but still in a younger grade because of failing school, and seeing all my friends in older grades, and that was one of the reasons that would make me want to drop out of school," he said.
At the time, he was 16 and in grade eight. Now he is on course to graduate from VEDC in three years. "I didn't want to drop out of school and ruin my future," he said. * Kathryn Lewis