ABU DHABI //The principal of the new Al Bateen Secondary School hopes to apply lessons she learnt teaching in China to better serve Emirati parents and pupils.
Tamra Bradbury, from Britain, moved to the capital this year to take on leadership of the newly opened Aldar Academies school.
"I am making sure I understand the culture and am trying to learn Arabic so I can communicate with parents according to their expectations," said Ms Bradbury, who has worked in education for 25 years.
"It is important to demonstrate that I am taking an interest to build their trust in our school."
Jim Harvey, the managing director of Aldar Academies, a division of the developer Aldar Properties, said the school's pupils were from a wide range of nationalities but more than 35 per cent were Emirati.
"Emirati parents are looking for an international curriculum but also a school that values their traditions at the same time," Mr Harvey said.
"So we have tried to incorporate that in the design of the school, as well as tailored the programme to meet their needs."
He said the campus, more than 28,000 square metres and designed to cater for 1,200 pupils, had open areas inspired by oases and signs in Arabic and English to "make it in tune with the community".
Ms Bradbury said the school would also develop its own resources for Arabic and Islamic education.
"We are adding after-school Arabic classes and calligraphy sessions," she said. "In the library, we will have a whole section of Arabic books as well."
Dr Karima Al Mazroui, the Arabic curriculum manager at Abu Dhabi Education Council, has said Arabic language skills across the emirate were not up to standards.
"It is important to improve the teaching of Arabic in schools," Dr Al Mazroui said recently. "We have to care about both languages, our mother tongue and English."
She said pupils should be encouraged to use the library more often.
Ms Bradbury is familiar with the challenges of keeping pupils aware of their national identity. She says her time in Hong Kong setting up an International Baccalaureate (IB) school prepared her.
"There is a lot of similarity in the goals I had to achieve in Hong Kong and here," she said. "One of the useful experiences was that of teaching the Chinese language to the Chinese children."
As with Emirati pupils and Arabic, Chinese pupils often did not have the skills to take exams in Cantonese, Ms Bradbury said, "so we had to introduce extra activities and courses to make them proficient".
Easing pupils and teachers into new learning methods was another challenge she faced in Hong Kong, and expects to face here.
"Chinese pupils who transferred from local schools were passive learners, studying with 40 peers in the same class, only relying on what the teacher said," Ms Bradbury said.
"We had to re-educate the teachers into new ways of teaching, using western styles that make the kids more active."
Al Bateen Secondary School, which opened to 175 pupils in grades 7, 8 and 9 two weeks ago, will teach the British curriculum for the first years.
But Ms Bradbury said she was aiming to make it an IB school by 2013. "As in China, here too we will have to prepare the parent and teacher community for that change."
Mohammed Al Mubarak, the chairman of Aldar Academies, said the school would gain from Ms Bradbury's lessons.
"Her experience in Hong Kong will steer the school towards providing a well-rounded education," Mr Al Mubarak said.