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New Schools & Old Schools

We're lucky to have both new schools and old schools in Dubai. Should we appreciate the differences and applaud the similarities?

Updated 21-April-2015  

New schools are a blank canvas; an opportunity to take the best of existing practices from around the world and blend them in a contemporary setting with state-of-the-art facilities and technology, hand-picked staff who share a vision for creativity and a license to take risks and build something extraordinary. Old schools have the advantage of evidence of sustained success, happy and influential alumni and accumulated traditions which spell out quality.

It’s hard to think of any school as old in a country that is younger than I am! I like to think of myself as young (at least at heart) and still with lots to learn. All schools should be the same: open to innovation, flexible to change and keen to celebrate their youth, vitality and the potential for development.

albert, einstein, physicist, pacifist, maths, theory of relativity‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.’ Albert Einstein

We all know that the educational world changes very fast, fuelled by each generation of graduates, inspired by initiatives from Governments who prioritise schools in the political agenda and influenced by the changing needs of employers.

Schools opening today are part of a digital age which has transformed communication and learning. We see huge investments in the infrastructure of technology, Wi-Fi across campuses, interactive displays and ‘bring-your-own-device’ capabilities. Children rarely choose to go to their textbook when digital resources are available; their trips to the library are very different experiences than they were in the past (no less important) and the wealth of new material and potential to share ideas, not just with those sat at the same table but with contemporaries across the globe is exciting.

We are operating in a new era in which international schools are growing in number and strength. New international schools support a multitude of cultures in their student body and are highly likely to appeal to recent expats with ‘third culture’ children, many of whom will have lived on different continents and be immune to skin colour, background and native language. New schools are in a very strong position to embrace this internationalism through flexible curricula, meaningful language learning and cultural celebrations.

New schools in 2015 are also products of a post-recession world, in which boards of governors are highly focused on getting the best value from investments, testing the market thoroughly for the best suppliers, seeking in-house solutions wherever possible and looking to employ staff who can apply their talents in a number of fields and multi-task.

New schools are able to select their staff by today’s values and motivations and build teams who understand the needs of a changing world and the requirements of a flexible education model. Schools with no ‘tradition baggage’ can subscribe to modern day issues more easily, such as sustainability, environmental awareness and healthy eating. They are free to align with organisations promoting similar goals without fear of contradicting practices inherited from a previous age.

School facilities are ever-more advanced and new schools will often compete with each other to provide the best. Bigger is not always better though and there is a danger that new schools may design their facilities with external lettings in mind, to generate additional funds, than focus on the needs of the children. However, the potential to provide young learners with twenty-first century laboratories, design studios and the thoughtful play spaces is very appealing.

You may be convinced at this point that being ‘old school’ is a bad thing. On the contrary, established schools have that most important ingredient to trade – ethos. ‘Ethos’ should not be confused with ‘traditions’, which often change over time or outlive their usefulness. The ethos of a school is more a way of thinking and realising potential that becomes in-built, passed from generation to generation and which new schools must work hard to establish.

New schools, by their very nature, attract staff who specialise in ‘start-ups’ and may not think long term. Embedding an ethos which permeates everything within a school can be very difficult if personnel change in the early years after foundation. New schools would do well to look after their employees and ensure that they all believe in the same core values upon which the school’s early traditions will be built.

New schools often have empty calendars, no special celebrations, and can be excused (to a certain extent) of being too experimental. They should take heed of best practices in established schools, avoid the pitfalls of complacency and inflexibility and set themselves clear guidelines to constantly review their progress, but not constantly change their approach.

Old schools cannot and new schools should not respond to every comment (whether critical or complimentary) they receive. Reflection before action is wise wherever possible and, after all, time is on the side of a new school as youth brings with it latitude.

As the UAE moves towards ‘middle age’, established schools will inevitably adopt a grown-up frame of mind, but we hope they will not lose the energy and enthusiasm of youth.

‘The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.’ Jean Piaget

If you have any questions regarding schooling and education please contact Dr Paul Silverwood, Founding Principal at Hartland International School, Meydan, Dubai.


The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only. Readers are encouraged to seek appropriate independent legal advice.

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