The United Arab Emirates is a country that strongly believes in embracing all cultures and religions with an open heart. The UAE Government promotes the values of co-existence and tolerance through special initiatives helping make this country the most liveable one for the expatriate community, which makes up over 80% of the population. Residents and nationals celebrate everything from Christmas to Eid to Diwali together, and that sends a message of acceptance and tolerance.
Now that the Holy month of Ramadan is upon us, the most important month in Islamic calendar, when Muslims observe fasting from sunrise to sunset, students from various backgrounds are encouraged by the schools to embrace the cultural values of the Holy month.
To achieve that schools make changes to educate students on the meaning of Ramadan, and adapt lessons and activities for all students to embrace the Holy month.
Moons, stars and lantern decors become normal sights across Dubai schools. Schools educate students about the values of charity, a core tradition people follow during Ramadan, along with other virtues associated with the Holy month.
This month’s education feature talks about how Dubai schools celebrate Ramadan and educate students, regardless of their faith and backgrounds, about the Holy month of Ramadan and associated cultural values.
Celebrations in Dubai schools
Schools start the celebrations by involving students and parents in different activities such as decoration in the run-up to Ramadan. Students good at art and craft are asked to make Ramadan props like stars, moons, lanterns and so on.
Emma Shanahan, Principal at Aspen Heights British School Al Bahya says, “At Aspen Heights, we are beginning our preparations for the Holy month by holding a community craft event. Families and children will decorate recycled glass jars to use as lanterns. Involving children and the entire community in these preparations ensures everyone feels involved.”
“Last year we asked the parents and the students to write about their good deeds in cards and hang them on the tree we installed in the reception area. It encouraged them to share good thoughts with everyone”, says Nada Almasri, Head of Arabic at Dubai Heights Academy.
Iftar is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. To educate parents and children about this important Ramadan meal, schools organise community Iftars for staff, parents and students. “It is a chance for everyone to gather and have Iftar together”, explains Nancy Hassan, Head of Arabic and Islamic at Dubai British School Jumeirah Park.
“Every Ramadan we host two Iftars for the DBS community. One is a visit to the Bastakiya area, open to all. Our main Iftar is hosted at DBS with the support of our PTA (Parent Teacher Association) for parents, teachers, staff and students and is always a hugely popular evening! Guests bring dishes to share and students take part in activities such as a Ramadan quiz and henna,” briefs Simon Jodrell, Principal, Dubai British School
Educating students about the cultural importance and other activities
Throughout the Holy month, schools educate students about Ramadan through a number of activities including morning assembly sessions on Ramadan, quiz competitions on the subject matter, trips to mosques, having traditional dress days and so on.
“We teach them what is the meaning of fasting and why do we fast in Ramadan. We educate them through songs, plays in the theatre about Ramadan, and short cartoons videos. We also have quiz competitions and give prizes to the students who give the correct answers”, says Nada Almasri of Dubai Heights Academy.
As charity is one of the most important pillars of Ramadan, schools make sure that students experience the joy of giving.
Nada Almasri adds, “As Ramadan is the month of giving and forgiving. we show them some pictures and videos of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Dubai Government organising Ramadan tents to help people in need in the UAE and other countries.”
In addition to the above, some schools put Ramadan fridges in the school to encourage students and parents to give food to poor people, some schools put a big box in the school for charity (clothes, toys, useful things) to give and send to the people in need.
Emma Shanahan of Aspen Heights British School Al Bahya says, “We use this time to encourage our whole community to contribute to those less fortunate. Last year we donated Iftar meals through a local café, and put together boxes for workers.”
“The school will have a Ramadan fridge to serve our local community with different classes taking responsibility for keeping it full”, says Wayne Howsen, Principal of The Aquila School “The #DBSPayItForward campaign runs throughout Ramadan and is an opportunity for students, staff and their families to do random acts of kindness for others! Last year saw a Primary student cutting her long hair short, to donate to a cancer charity which makes wigs for children who have lost their hair, students volunteering at Iftar’s at labour camps and selling goods for charity. We are so proud of all the students who paid it forward to others, in so many ways”, tells Simon Jodrell of Dubai British School
“We contributed to Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s ‘For You’ - Lakum box initiative where children created custom-made packages for their counterparts around the world. In the boxes they packed their favourite toys in addition to educational supplies and hygiene items. We take these opportunities and many others to incorporate the acts of kindness in our daily lessons and talk about sharing with the less fortunate”, tells Dr Vandana Gandhi, Founder and CEO of British Orchard Nursery.
Any school day generally begins with a morning assembly, and schools use this time to give out Ramadan lessons to students. Some schools make an extra effort to educate parents as well about Ramadan.
“At the start of the Holy month our Islamic children here at the Aquila School will present a dual language assembly accessible to all to show why Ramadan is important to Muslims”, adds Wayne Howsen.
Nancy Hassan of Dubai British School Jumeirah Park says, “We organise workshop for parents to introduce them to Ramadan and the ‘do’s and don’ts’ in Dubai during Ramadan. This is very useful, especially for the new families in the UAE.”
Some nurseries and schools organise trips to mosques allowing students to have hands on experience about customs and traditions.
“During Ramadan children from a few branches (especially government branches) visit the mosque along with their classmates and do group prayers. They also follow the prayer dress code. Teachers educate children about fasting, Suhur and Iftar for which special food is prepared. The children learn on how to break their fast and what to eat, such as dates and water”, adds Dr Vandana Gandhi of British Orchard Nursery.
Support to children and staff fasting
In order to support children and staff fasting, Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) announces special school timings during Ramadan that all schools adhere to. The class lengths are generally reduced to adapt to special Ramadan school hours. This year’s timings confirmed by the KHDA for students are 8am to 1pm or 8.30am to 1.30pm, and 8am to 2pm for staff.
In addition to the reduced schools hours, schools support all those fasting in a number of ways:
• The school dedicates some areas for fasting students and staff so they can take their breaks away from the students that aren’t fasting and away, from the school canteen.
• Older children take part in other non-physical learning during their PE sessions, focussing on leadership and health education.
• Schools have special activities during break time for fasting children who would rather stay indoors.