x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

MP: Let the young show us the way

A visiting British MP says a programme that partners UK and UAE schools is helping counter negative stereotypes about Muslims in the media.

A visiting British MP says a programme that partners UK and UAE schools is helping counter negative stereotypes about Muslims in the media. The Liberal Democrat Colin Breed, from Cornwall, in his country's south-west, is visiting the UAE along with Robert Goodwill, a Conservative MP who represents the northern towns of Scarborough and Whitby.

They are visiting several schools this week as part of the "Connecting Classrooms" initiative organised by the British Council. Under the scheme, which also aims to help schools in the Middle East and UK improve standards by comparing their experiences, nine British schools have partnered with 14 UAE schools. The schools exchange teachers and their pupils write each other letters and carry out joint school projects on topics such as global warming, among other things.

"This is a great opportunity for children in the far south-west to get a bit more worldly wise about Arab and Muslim culture," Mr Breed said yesterday. "There are very few Muslims in Cornwall, so this offers them the opportunity to explore something totally different." He said such projects can help to counter negative beliefs about other cultures he said were "perpetuated through the media". "The emphasis is on understanding. This comes from personal contact and knowledge and a greater understanding of how life is lived in this part of the world," he said, adding that four schools in Cornwall had expressed interest in joining the scheme, which was launched in 2006 and is supported here by the Ministry of Education, Abu Dhabi Education Council and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

In total, 230 schools across the Middle East and Britain are partnered with each other through the programme. In many cases, a coeducational school in Britain has partnered with one girls' school and one boys' school in the Middle East. Mr Goodwill said the project would also help pupils in UAE make use of their English skills. "Schools in the UAE gain more from it than schools in England because the communications are in English," he said.

"It helps them realise how important English is. If you can speak in English you can communicate with the rest of the world. It's something we take for granted." The Caedmon School in Mr Goodwill's constituency is partnered with Al Mawaheb School and Al Suqoor Model School in Abu Dhabi, both of which the MPs are visiting this week. He added that recent attempts by the Government to improve national education standards would be given a boost by the programme.

"The UAE doesn't have to reinvent the wheel," he said. "They can use the experience we have and use it to good effect. "It won't be exactly the same because the school systems are different, but there are a lot of principles that are the same." The visit is one of several organised for parliamentarians by the British Council in the Middle East. dbardsley@thenational.ae