x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Hands up if you like going to school

At growing Indian International High School, the dawning semester means new teachers, a busy principal and painting the perfect flower.

Pupils take part in an aerobics class at the Indian International High School at Dubai's Silicon Oasis yesterday.
Pupils take part in an aerobics class at the Indian International High School at Dubai's Silicon Oasis yesterday.

DUBAI// As principal of one of the emirate's most popular Indian schools, Geetha Murali has a hectic term ahead.

The new Silicon Oasis branch of Dubai's oldest Indian school, the Indian International High School, opened its doors to 450 pupils last April. Now Ms Murali has to get it ready to take an extra 1,050 when the new school year starts this coming April.

At the start of the new semester yesterday, she barely had time to sit down.

"Have the new teachers come in?" she asked her assistant at one point. "Tell them I will meet with them in 10 minutes. You know how the library shelves need to be put up. I'll be there to see how it's done in a while."

The opening of IIHS to kindergarten and Grade 1 pupils has already gone some way to ease the long-standing shortage of spaces at Asian schools.

And as IIHS prepares to expand up to Grade 5 next year, parents are scrambling to secure places for their children. "We have 13 classes in kindergarten but places are filling up fast," Ms Murali said.

The not-for-profit school's main campus, in Oud Mehta, is generally hugely oversubscribed by hundreds of places, forcing parents of younger children to rely on the luck of the draw to secure a spot.

Rana Roy has found the process of finding a decent, affordable school for his five-year-old son Ayushmaan immensely frustrating. "There is always a problem at Indian schools and the good ones have huge waiting lists," he said. "I first tried in the IIHS campus but did not get a seat for my son," he said. "I am trying to get my daughter a place as well but it is proving to be a challenge."

IIHS uses the international version of the Central Board of Secondary Education curriculum, introduced last year to offer a more multicultural view than the version taught in India.

"It is an accelerated curriculum where children have to question concepts, develop their own perspectives, get involved in community service and learn about things in a global and local context," Ms Murali said. "Everything is thematic for the young children and examples are taken from real life."

Yesterday was mostly about getting children back into the routine of school. "We don't start with any heavy concepts because they are often still in the holiday mode," said Mona Khanna, the kindergarten co-ordinator. "We ask them about their holidays and have more song and dance today."

For Aanya Anju, four, it was still a tough day at school as she tried to get the perfect flower in a palm-painting exercise during the art class.

"I put my hand in the orange paint like this and put it on the paper like this," she said as she worked to get an imprint on her paper.

Even if the pupils had been ready for full-on classes, it would hardly have been worth it, according to Mallika Tewary, a kindergarten teacher, as not all had returned from India.

The missing children - around four or five in most classes - did not stop Donolyn Ogena from introducing her class to a new letter, though.

"I am teaching them how to construct the letter 'e' today," she said.

She walks around the class, holding every pupil's hand to help them make the curves. "Go up and then round."

When she turns away, Kevin George, four, messes up the page. "I learnt it," he shouts, only to have the teacher erase his writing.

Ms Murali was concentrating on the bigger picture - hiring the extra 30 teachers she will need next term.

Contractors also have to be briefed with the requirements in the new facilities, which are to include a library, science labs, and sports facilities including a swimming pool.

"It is going to be a busy term, both academically and to get everything else in place for the new pupils," she said.

aahmed@thenational.ae