AJMAN // A measuring stick was used to determine if Taqia Ali Al Shehhi was ready to go to school in the 70s.
Back then, children were admitted to Grade One based on their height. And Mrs Al Shehhi, known to her family as Umm Hassan, says the height-based admissions method meant her school days were among her happiest.
"The difference in age between my older sisters and me was three years and two years, but because I was as tall as them, we were in the same class," she said, laughing.
Born on July 4, 1971, the year of the union, Umm Hassan began school when she was about 6.
"People always tell me, 'You are union-born'. It makes me feel special, because I was born when the UAE was born," she said.
She has seen the country grow and change over the years, but nothing will ever beat her school years, she said.
"What I miss the most about the past is how school was back then, it was much more fun than it is now for our children."
Umm Hassan's sister, Umm Khalid, remembers those days with the same fondness.
"Taqia and I used to go to the same class together and the best part of it was that we were united and looked out for each other," she said. "We used to walk to school together and it was much safer before than it is now."
Umm Hassan remembers how they used to get the students motivated: "Hearing our names called out by microphone in the morning assembly, announcing our good grades, was more than enough incentive," she said.
During the 80s, children were also obligated to attend religious schools in the summer to memorise the Quran and learn more about Islam.
"Girls had to wear a plain blue Jalabeeya and cover their heads, while men had to were their Kandoura," said Umm Hassan. "After we finished the term, they used to give us Dh600 in an envelope!"
She also has found memories of outings at their Ajman school. "They used to take us to Mena Rashid and factories in Dubai," she said. "It's not like now, when they take our children to a mega mall. I wish they would bring these trips back."
Kuwait used to supply their school with clothes and food up until the late 80s, "but after that our father Sheikh Zayed took care of us," she said.
"Celebrations now for National Day are great - especially with how the UAE has developed - but nothing beats the celebrations we had in our schools back in the day," said Umm Hassan.
"Still, we am very grateful for our Sheikhs and for our country," said Umm Khalid. "They paved many roads for us. May Allah keep them safe."
Umm Hassan's son, Hassan Ahmed, said he had never realised that his mother was born in the same year as the union.
"It makes me feel more nationalistic than ever," said Mr Ahmed, 21, who serves in the UAE Armed Forces. "Our country has been safe for the past 40 years. Our country is something else... I am proud to be Emirati," he said. "But this is also a day to remember Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the UAE, because he is the one who got us united. He changed the UAE from a desert into a green heaven."
Speaking about the 40th anniversary of the UAE, Umm Hassan said: "We have grown since the union. Our union, unlike any other union, has been strong since 1971."