x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Innovative project gives English a sporting chance

A pioneering scheme that couples sport with learning has so impressed the sports council that it wants to introduce similar projects elsewhere in Sharjah.

Lina Hejjawi, of the American University of Sharjah's intensive English programme, with a class at the Al Dhaid club.
Lina Hejjawi, of the American University of Sharjah's intensive English programme, with a class at the Al Dhaid club.

SHARJAH // A pioneering scheme that couples sport with learning has so impressed the sports council that it wants to introduce similar projects elsewhere in the emirate. The initiative, which was launched in February by the American University of Sharjah and Al Dhaid Sports and Cultural Club, involves university staff teaching English at the club. Already, 108 students between the ages of 10 and 60 have completed the seven- to 14-week courses. The initial response was so high that the number of teachers had to be increased.

Some of those taking part have come from as far afield as Ajman and Umm al Qaiwain. It is one of the first partnerships of its kind in the country, based on a model commonly seen throughout Europe - for example in the Manchester United Foundation or those by Manchester City - which have taken education to the community and in turn, brought more of the community into sport. Now the Sharjah Sports Council wants to copy the programme at its seven other sports clubs, including Dibba, Khor Fakkan, Kalba and Hamriya, using Al Dhaid as the model.

Tim March - a British adviser to the sports council who comes from Manchester and has had experience with both Manchester United and England's Football Association on community projects - described the initiative as one of the most proactive examples of sport outreach in the region. "Everyone talks about what happens on the field but not what goes on with the community," he says. With many parents putting more emphasis on their children's education than sport, combining the two fields would allow for greater involvement in sport as well as offering the club's sportsmen the chance of a wider education, he said.

The club's chairman, Khalifa al Jari, said that since the initiative began, the club had become more social, with many more members of the community using its facilities such as the children's play area, library and wedding hall. For example, he said, parents were using the gym while they waited for their children to finish classes. "So many people used to just think the club was for sport. Now, it's changed people's attitudes." Not only were more people taking part, but "we have more women and children using our facilities which is what it's there for".

Many women had been attending the seminars and classes and more activities were planned for them in the coming months, including a women-only aerobics club and pool. Tom Alibrandi, the director of the university's intensive English programme, said: "As an institution, it's our duty to give something back and interact. We're part of this community too." The American academic said that community programmes in subjects such as English or even courses with more of a vocational focus were vital if both the university and the sports club were to embrace their community. While the mosque was the spiritual focus, "from a cultural, social and sporting point of view, Al Dhaid club is the central hub of that place ? the club there is vital."

He hopes one result of this outreach will be that the university attract more local people, and that the success of the project will be sustained and extended to many more of the emirate's remote communities. mswan@thenational.ae