New expat teachers get lessons in Emirati culture

Ministry of Education and Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding hold Teachers’ Cultural Awareness Days

17:43 August 2, 2017
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Dubai: Why do Emirati men dress in white? Why is Arabic coffee central to greeting guests? What are the dos and don’ts of Ramadan in the UAE?

New expatriate teachers, who will soon begin teaching in public schools, were briefed about Emirati culture and norms of UAE society on the first Teachers’ Cultural Awareness Day on Wednesday.

The event was organised for around 95 teachers — men and women from the West and other countries — by the Ministry of Education and the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).

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A teacher learns how to wear the abaya. Some teachers wanted to know what the acceptable attire for work is. Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Around 400 more teachers, who will teach various subjects in English language in the Arabic-medium government schools, will be hosted similarly at SMCCU in the first phase, as part of the broader induction programme for the new 2017-18 school year that begins in September.

On Wednesday, the teachers listened to SMCCU presenters, who also took them on a tour of the mosque to explain the basics of Islam, its peaceful message, and dispel common misconceptions. They later enjoyed an Emirati lunch, where they learnt about the local cuisine and dining customs.

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A presenter from the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding takes the teachers on a tour of a mosque.  Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Daphne Ho, a teacher from Hong Kong, said: “This was an opportunity for us to be open, ask questions and make mistakes in an open discussion. It was a very comforting experience, especially, I feel, for women.”

She added that the teachers appreciated the fact that even within the UAE, there are differences in the lifestyle, laws and history of the various emirates. Some of the queries from teachers were about local norms on dress and the acceptable attire for work.

Giulia Senigaglia, education coordinator at SMCCU, said: “We don’t give the teachers ‘sessions’. We make them feel comfortable; they are part of this country now and they should be made to feel as part of it. As teachers, they have a very important part to play.”

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Khowla Al Hosni, director of training and professional development at the ministry, said as the foreign teachers would find themselves in a new schooling environment when classes begin in September, the ministry is taking a proactive step to raise their comfort level by familiarising them with the local norms and by answering their queries.

Al Hosni added that the insights will also enable the new teachers to better understand Emirati students, appreciate their aspirations and those of their parents, helping pupils to reach their full potential, as young citizens and future leaders.

She said these teachers would be teaching in grades six to 12 in around 200 schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, in subjects such as creative design, sciences and others.

Geraldine Craven, a training specialist at the ministry, said: “These are not international schools they are going to. So we need to manage their expectations and make them — and parents of students — feel comfortable. Many of them have worked in the Middle East but the UAE — and even within the UAE — there are differences.”


Box: C is for Culture

Why do Emirati men dress in white?

One reason is that white reflects heat well — ideal for the hot UAE climate — and men traditionally spent long hours working outdoors.

Why is Arabic coffee served first?

Small cups of traditional coffee, called qahwa, are an easy and refreshing way to honour guests.

What are the dos and don’ts of Ramadan in the UAE?

Non-Muslims should avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public during the Muslim month of fasting.