If you have been teaching in the UAE for a few years, you may have had some discussion about sourcing culturally relevant material for your school. It is Eurocentric or Westernised, not UAE centric material, that is readily sourced online and in the market. Our students are living in a young, vibrant and culturally diverse country; learning to cross divides, adjust to new ways of thinking and, to thrive surrounded by multiple cultures. Many of us are proud of the fact that the children we teach, in this very unique environment, are open- minded individuals who understand and respect the local culture. Of course this can only happen by design and not by accident. With an eye on cultural sensibility, where do teachers go to source exciting and relevant material for their UAE based students?
Here are some innovative ways in which you can reference the local culture and its landscape to promote a culturally creative curriculum.
Crisscross subject boundaries
Create cross-curricular learning opportunities. Bring in a few copies of a bilingual RTA timetable for a practical maths lesson. This means you are bringing the world outside – familiar stops and favourite hotspots – into the classroom. Challenge the children to calculate duration and length of actual journeys across the city. It is surprising to see what excitement can be generated when students are asked to plan the shortest bus journey, for example, from their neighbourhood in Umm Suqueim to a specified metro station! During these activities there is plenty of scope for Arabic to be read and used in a very real and practical way. Native Arabic speakers will also benefit from this spotlight on their language. Ultimately, the assimilation of Arabic text alongside English will be particularly useful for boosting Arabic in your school.
Give imagination a role in the classroom
Technology tied tasks are practically de rigeur in the modern classroom, adding real value to lessons at school and to projects at home. The stimulating sights and sounds of an Ipad, laptop or phone can capture interest and promote wonderful online learning experiences. However, let us not forget that when children disconnect from these devices they reclaim an equally wonderful imagination. Before a planned class trip to the spice/gold/textile souq, widen the scope of study with image streaming techniques to help children visualise the scene. A richly evocative passage from a storybook can also encourage a child to conjure up possibilities like a keen eyed photographer or graphic designer. Pre visit sketches of an imaginary trip, alongside their actual site visit photographs, convey a powerful message to your students: that thoughts and concepts first come to life as an image from the imagination. Provide them with space to nurture their own creative habits.
Encourage playful thinking
It is adventurous, open-ended teaching that puts faith in your young learners to be active thinkers; to muse, question, ponder and reflect. This playful thinking is early primary school philosophy. It enables a child to connect at a deeper level with their surroundings. use a powerful role- play activity that puts them in the decision making role of a New Age Museum curator for the UAE. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss the job of a curator as someone who finds a collection that offers us insight into the history and culture of a place. Increase motivation by making this a collaborative effort. Divide the class into ‘content creation teams’ that have been tasked with curating a decade defining exhibition for future visitors to the country. Encourage higher order thinking by asking your teams to sift and select only the most exciting/interesting/relevant exhibits. This activity gives children a chance to examine their own thoughts, feelings and perceptions about the country in which that they are growing up.
By Lubna Sarwar
Lubna Sarwar, author of Sandstruck in the UAE. For more on Sandstruck visit her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/sandstruck.