The UAE knows its oil reserves won't last forever, and it's now exploring other means of economic growth.
Education was a good place to start revitalising the country. The capital, Abu Dhabi, is now home to two pilot schools modelled on Finnish teaching methods. Some 40 Finnish teachers work at the schools, and ten more will arrive next year. The programme also includes an opportunity for local teachers to train in Finland.
"We are using the Finnish way of running schools and Finnish way of teaching. We want to see how it impacts the performance of our students," explains Jihad Mohaidat of the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
The UAE is looking to create a bilingual Arabic-English school system. Local teachers say students' English skills have improved greatly since adopting Finnish classroom habits.
"I found that our children's English skills improved a lot because they started to use English when dealing with their teachers," says Rafeea Al Dhaheri, a teacher at Al Raqiah Girls' School.
One Finnish import is hourly recess -- UAE children typically only get one break per day.
"Locals worried that the children would run out of steam if they were let out to play after every lesson," says Eija Valanne, principal at Al Raqiah Girls' School.
Other borrowed elements include instating classroom teachers and focusing on special-needs children. The Finnish-inspired schools, however, follow the UAE's curriculum, based on the country's own unique culture.
Better multicultural understanding
Tuula Kallio, one of the Finnish teachers working in Abu Dhabi, says one of her main takeaways is learning what it's like to be a foreigner.
"Having gained personal experience of the problems you can run into has afforded me with a better understanding of the immigrant families and kids I work with back home in Finland."
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