AL AIN // Mansoor Juma carefully picks up the tiny Lego man and moves him forwards, ever so slightly, for the next sequence. A schoolmate points a camera at the figure and shoots a frame - one of hundreds of pictures needed to create their one-minute-long movie.
They are just two out of hundreds of children who have gone back to the classroom during the summer holidays - and they are loving every minute. "It's better than school!" grins 14-year-old Mansoor. While many of his friends are happy to stay at home and play computer games, he and his pals are making everything from films to circuit boards. They are among 240 children, aged 11 to 17, taking part in Abu Dhabi Education Council's (Adec) Summer Challenge at Al Ain.
The five-week challenge, which finishes next week, has seen more than 600 pupils at three locations in the emirate put their creativity to the test. There is a course for each week, at the end of which participants have something they have made to take home. For many of the children, it is the first time they have made something with their own hands or used hi-tech equipment not usually available in schools.
"It's simple, but it's hard work," says Mansoor of his filmmaking, which has taken 112 frames to produce 20 seconds. "It has some humans and some robots. The humans are good and the robots are bad, and they fight against each other. The humans win." Since 2004 the Summer Challenge has been run by a German company, GTZ, at two locations in the capital. This year, for the first time, it has been extended to Al Ain and Madinat Zayed at the Vocational Education and Training Institutes operated by GTZ on behalf of Adec, which are normally used to run courses for Emirati school-leavers and mature students.
At Al Ain, where the challenge is run in association with another German organisation, the Froebel Academy, the 96 boys and 144 girls are taught separately in classes of 12 in the morning or evening. Boys can try electronics - which involves making a wooden house with a solar-powered light - filmmaking, web design and carpentry. For girls, the subjects are carpentry, silk painting, jewellery making, candle design and photography. Classes are free and all but a handful of pupils are Emirati.
"We want to give them an idea of what you can do with your own hands," said Andreas Toepfer, the Summer Challenge manager at Al Ain. "At school, they don't have the chance to do carpentry and at home they don't either. They play on computer games, but they don't use a saw. For them, it's a new challenge to use a saw or a soldering station." Part of the reason behind Summer Challenge was to persuade the children to consider careers they might not otherwise have thought of, Mr Toepfer said.
"Our aim is maybe to prepare them for studies, like professional training, in institutions like this," he said, adding that he hoped the course prompted questions including "'what can we learn here? What could I do later with this knowledge if I'm working on my own career?'" While enthusiasm was always strong early on, Mr Toepfer said the challenge for teachers was to sustain the pupils' interest in a subject over several days.
"In the end, they are really happy to have their own product," he said. These can include a CD containing a film, a multi-coloured candle or a calendar featuring photographs taken by the pupil. Anne Tornow, who teaches candle making and colouring, said she was surprised by how similar UAE pupils were to those in her native Germany. Children in her classes were making white candles before colouring them and adding decorations.
"They are pretty much the same because they're just teenage girls," said Ms Tornow. "Although here they really love the glitter and colourful stuff." firstname.lastname@example.org