Hemkala Bhatiad used her home to begin educating 10 children, the first crop of Indian High School pupils.
IHS started in apartment
DUBAI // When Hemkala Bhatia left India in the 1950s to join those emigrating to the Middle East, little did she know that her passion for teaching would lay the foundation of one of the oldest Indian community schools in the UAE.
Though the united version of the Emirates did not exist at the time, expatriates flocking to the Trucial States had to be schooled. Finding no established education system in place, Mrs Bhatia decided to share her knowledge with the children in her neighbourhood.
She converted her one-bedroom apartment into a classroom in the late 1950s to teach a group of 10 pupils, calling it Bharatiya Vidyalaya and laid the base for what is now the Indian High School (IHS), which was established in 1960. Her contribution to education in the Emirates was remembered yesterday at its 50th anniversary celebration.
"Hemkala approached members of the Indian community for support to start a school 52 years ago," said Mohan Valrani, the IHS chairman of the board.
"Some of the merchants got together and approached the ruler of Dubai, who graciously granted us land to build the first IHS."
Mrs Bhatia's legacy was extended when the school began to hold classes in portable cabins funded by local businessmen parked next to the Indian Club. Its first campus was built in the Zabeel area in 1961 after a land grant from Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the former UAE prime minister. Classes began with kindergarten and first-grade lessons before expanding through to grade 12.
The IHS became affiliated with New Delhi's Central Board of Secondary Education in 1975 to offer pupils an accredited Indian curriculum. The first batch of children from the school graduated with an All Indian Senior School Certificate in 1979 under the agreement.
The not-for-profit nature of the school was a hit with middle-class expatriates seeking an Indian qualification for their children. The number of children waiting for admission to the kindergarten can be as high as 2,000.
The institution eventually outgrew its Zabeel campus and added a 230,000 square-foot location in Al Garhoud that was converted into quarters for kindergarten through grade six. The IHS complex now educates more than 10,000 pupils.
Mrs Kanta Bhatia, a language teacher who joined the school in 1980 and still teaches at IHS, said the school was her family.
"It's like the school was Mrs Hemkala's baby that she passed on to us," said Mrs Bhatia, who is no relation to Hemkala Bhatia. "We will continue to be here to raise it and see it succeed. In those days we just taught from the textbook but now we have adopted a student-oriented teaching style with the use of technology."
The school continues to expand with a new branch due to open next year in the Dubai Silicon Oasis. Mr Valrani said the plan was to set up three more schools to cater to more than 20,000 children by 2020.