x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The youngest, brightest sparks vie for top award

When he's not building a house for his cat, Adeeb is thinking of ways to fix the world's problems. He and other kids like him are in contention for an award that has taken on regional significance as a hallmark for well-rounded young achievers.

Adeeb Sulaiman al Balushi is preparing for the Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Awards for Distinguished Academic Performance.
Adeeb Sulaiman al Balushi is preparing for the Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Awards for Distinguished Academic Performance.

ABU DHABI // Adeeb Sulaiman al Balushi wants to be a scientist so he can work to improve the lives of the disabled. He would like to invent a device that connects the ear to the brain, so instructions given to a prosthetic limb can move at will.

But first he has to grow up.

Adeeb is a six-year-old pupil in Grade 2 at the Al Qeyam al Namoothajeya school in Dubai whose exceptional talent at science theories has not gone unnoticed.

The winner of several prizes for a variety of things, including English elocution and science experiments, he is on a list of talented pupils whose progress is being closely watched by the board of the Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum award for distinguished academic performance.

Since the prize was established 13 years ago, it has been awarded to hundreds of students. It has grown from being a Dubai-based initiative to including the region and is now called the Unesco-Hamdan bin Al Maktoum prize. There are several categories including best school administration, teacher, and university student. Every year, the number of pupils who are awarded the prize varies.

Yet, one of the most sought-after categories is for pupils who want to be recognised for their academics.

Like Adeeb, several pupils from various schools in the UAE are preparing this week to submit a package that will include scholastic, social and community achievements.

It is not an easy task, said Michael Guzder, the principal of the Millennium School whose pupils have won three of the awards in four years.

"You cannot do it alone," he said. "Everyone is involved. The teachers, parents and school management.

"The ones who win have to work extremely hard through the whole year and have to be in the forefront. It helps parents and students realise that with the help they learn more and can work hard. It also builds immense self-confidence in them."

Pupils are required to have grades above 90 per cent for three years. They also have to produce a portfolio that includes hobbies, talents and social commitments to the community. They must also demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the culture and language of the UAE. It was on the insistence of his Arabic teacher that 10-year-old Arshad Khantwala, in Grade 5 at the Millennium School, decided to give it a try. His driving force to clean up the environment is what makes him stand apart. He simply wants to "clean up the world".

After a day in the desert, when Arshad picked up discarded bottles, ropes and cans and wondered how it would affect a camel if one ingested it, he decided to become an eco-scientist some day.

"The environment, it is being slowly deprived everyday and I have to do my part," he said.

Arshad will have a fellow competitor in 13-year-old Karthik Satheesh Kumar, in Grade 7 at the Millennium School. It took three years of convincing by Mr Guzder, the school's principal, before his father decided that Karthik possessed the kind of qualities that could someday lead his son to the dais, holding a prize.

"I didn't understand at first what to do," Karthik said. "Then I attended workshops with my mom and dad and realised you have to be involved in everything. You can't just be good at your studies."

He will list mental calculations in math as his talent but Karthik's special project is dear to his heart. He is conducting a survey to bring about awareness about smoking and cancer. He watched his grandfather smoke for many years before he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and lungs. As his grandfather undergoes chemotherapy, Karthik hopes for the best but is also afraid of what may come.

"I don't want to know because I am scared," he said. "But at the same time I have started this research to understand it better and make people aware so it will not happen to them."

Mohammed Nazies, the coordinator of the prize for private schools, said the vision of the award was to set an example. Once pupils receive the award, they are encouraged to speak about their experiences to others.

"It is not just about the awards," Mr Nazies said. "It is more and more about participation … we need to make sure that we don't make the mistake of where good students don't need much work."

For Farida, Adeeb's mother, the idea that her son could qualify is exciting.

"He has so many exciting ideas," she said. "Sometimes when we hear them, we don't understand. I don't know how they are coming from his mind."

For now, Adeeb seems rather unaffected by the prospect of adding another award to his collection.

"I will become big and then I will know what kind of scientist I want to be," he said. "I want to build wheelchairs, but now I have to build a house for my cat first."



With additional reporting by Samar al Huneidi