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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

New Dubai school to teach sustainability as part of curriculum

Arbor School in Al Furjan is the first to be developed by Praxis Education and its mission is to nurture environmentally astute young people

A wildfire is reflected in a stream. A new school to open in Dubai next year will better prepare students to be environmentally aware as adults. Patricia De Melo Moreira / AFP
A wildfire is reflected in a stream. A new school to open in Dubai next year will better prepare students to be environmentally aware as adults. Patricia De Melo Moreira / AFP

With a warmer Arctic branded the “new normal” as forest fires ravage California again, the focus is back on climate change.

Populations, meanwhile, struggle to balance daily existence against green aspirations.

It is timely then that Dubai should reveal an ambitious new school brand with sustainable living central to its educational curriculum – and a mission to nurture environmentally astute young people.

The Arbor School in Al Furjan is the first to be developed by Praxis Education.

The 1,600-student facility is promising a fresh education concept built to drive sustainability and environmental issues within its curriculum.

Praxis Education is inspired and led by its chief executive Sa’ad Al Omari, a Kuwait-born, Cambridge-trained environmental scientist.

The Arbor will embed eco-literacy, global environmental justice and ethics into its curriculum, reflected in lessons and tasks. To underline the latter, the school – scheduled to open September 2018 – is building three biodomes for practical lessons.

A bold first, these will help take pupils beyond entry-level green initiatives such as recycling or conserving water.

“Environmental pollution, habitat destruction, climate change and the many ecological, social and economic problems that arise from them are not specific to the [Arabian] Gulf,” says Mr Al Omari.

“The Gulf in general, and the UAE particularly, are experiencing an era of unprecedented growth, development and citizen empowerment.

“It is vital we step in at an early stage to ensure our children, who will inherit the world we are building now, are properly educated to understand the true depths of environmentalism within the Gulf and globally, as we are all citizens of a profoundly interconnected world.”

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Mr Al Omari says The Arbor is the realisation of a dream he has had since he was studying ecology and is the latest contribution from a group of educators “committed to delivering ethical, compassionate and inclusive education”, tailored to the specific needs of society, within the context of the Gulf.

It will educate students from foundation to A-level. Teaching staff will be international, largely hired from the Umited Kingdom; with the English National Curriculum the backbone of their educational approach.

“We will be enriching the curriculum in several ways to reflect our commitment to environmental mindfulness, inclusion and project-based, experiential and outdoor learning,” says Mr Al Omari.

“We will begin by identifying themes and topics of real-life interest and value that will be cross-curricular, cutting across all subjects at the same time to ensure a student’s learning experience remains consistent and interrelated as he/she moves from English language to science to Arabic, for example, throughout the day.

“This thematic approach affords us flexibility to incorporate elements of the best of different curricula with educational ideas from around the world, such as the International Primary Curriculum.”

This will help the school align learning outcomes with the 17 sustainability goals of the United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development, covering themes such as climate change, gender equality, health and well-being, poverty and hunger, renewable energy and responsible consumption.

The Arbor will also employ a scientist and artist in residence to inspire kids to think and act differently, facilitating their engagement with environmental projects both locally and globally, under the guidance of a director of education for sustainability.

They will have unique resources, such as the climate-controlled domes designed to provide a stable ecological environment year-round for students to interact with soils, flora and fauna.

The Arbor is seeking like-minded professionals to fill teaching roles, and hopefully cycle to work; the school, currently being constructed to exceed green building requirements, will accommodate 100 bikes.

“Our recruitment and interview processes are rigorously focused on ensuring teaching staff, across all subjects and languages, share our values and are fully aligned with our vision and mission,” says the chief executive.

Through project-based and experiential learning, children will plan, collaborate, reflect and make “meaningful changes” to the world around them.

The school also aims to engage with local, regional and global environmental agencies and initiatives, supporting and spreading a message of environmentalism in Dubai – not only through its “educational paradigm”, but also by sharing knowledge and awareness, such as through community outreach initiatives.

“Human activities are seriously impacting global climate, threatening not only ecosystems, but also economies around the world, leading to an increase of hardship in societies on every continent and on generations to come,” says Mr Al Omari.

“A contemporary ethic based on compassion and responsibility towards both the human, and non-human, world is needed more than ever. It is this higher ethical sense we aim to instil in students, in the hope they will form a vanguard generation that can begin to reverse the harmful trajectories we see unfolding around us.”

With Dubai a rapidly emerging global city, resident children, regardless of cultural backgrounds, are emerging as global citizens who will carry attitudes and knowledge back home and beyond.

“Dubai is striving to leave an indelible mark on the future; we are honoured to be a part of its mission.

“The Arbor School is the realisation of a dream of ethical education focused on compassion and deeper philosophical understanding of environmentalism in all its dimensions,” says Mr Al Omari.

The school is also set to be a template, perhaps inspiration, for other campuses.

“It is an essential part of our mission to reach out to other schools and organisations in the UAE – and worldwide – to share our knowledge and experience,” says Mr Al Omari.

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