In UAE, affordable school brings new hope for Pakistani students

Omar Farooqui with the children at the opening of the academy. (Photo Credit: Hope Academy)
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Updated 15 December 2019

In UAE, affordable school brings new hope for Pakistani students

  • A 2017 HSBC study said the UAE had the second-highest school fees in the world
  • A majority of the children studying at Dubai’s ‘Hope Academy’ have never been to school

DUBAI: Hundreds of students with financial constraints, a majority of them Pakistanis, are waiting in line for enrollment in Dubai’s Hope Academy since it opened its doors just over a month ago.

Over 250 children-- from kindergarten level to the 8th grade-- are currently studying at the affordable, community-based school, in a country where school fees are otherwise considered the second highest in the world, according to a 2017 HSBC study.

The teachers of Hope Academy. (Photo Credit: Hope Academy)

“These are children of those people living in the UAE who cannot afford to send their children to regular schools,” Omar Farooqui, President of Coded Minds, told Arab News, and added: “It is as if a ghost population has come to the fore.”

Coded Minds is a Dubai-based global iSTEAM and leadership education company and has founded Hope Academy.

“Hope Academy is a movement,” Farooqui continued. “It was an idea that came from behind a table where we discussed how we could bring quality STEM education to the masses.”

“We are expanding to other emirates including Abu Dhabi and Ajman to accommodate 500 other children by January,” he said.

Statistics gathered by the academy show that 29.94 percent of the children seeking admission belongs to Pakistan, followed by 11.65 percent Syrians and Indians-- from a total of 45 different nationalities.

“These are the children of people who have not regularized their status in the UAE or cannot afford school fees, widowers, single parents and many others with unfortunate circumstances,” Farooqui said.

“But we didn’t realize that there was this huge number,” he added.

He said that there were families with multiple children who had never been to school.

The academy charges $286 per year and teaches core subjects -Science, Technology, English and Maths. 

The academy will also be partnering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the future and offer its services to the children of 8,000 refugee families in the country, Farooqui said.

Mohammed Rayyan on his first day at school. (Photo Credit: Hope Academy)

Teachers are hired full-time, with a whopping 70 percent of them, women. Since many of the children have never been to regular schools, the academy carries out an assessment of their educational readiness and adjusts them in classes accordingly.

For Ishaq Ahmed who is from Swabi in northwest Pakistan, the opportunity is a Godsend. Ironically, Ahmed is a school driver but he cannot afford to send his five-year-old son to the school where he works.

“I am so happy I got to know about this academy and now my son is a part of it,” Ahmed said.

This is the first time his son has been to school.

“Whenever I get the time in between work, I go and check on my child. My heart fills with pride on seeing him sit in class and learn,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Pakistan Association Dubai (PAD) became the first welfare association in the UAE to join hands with Hope Academy, followed by the Pakistan Social Centre Sharjah.

Rizwan Fancy, Director for Welfare at PAD said: “There are a large number of Pakistani children in the UAE who cannot continue their education because of financial problems. Such initiatives will help lots of families who are desperate for an opportunity to send their children back to the classroom.”

Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

Updated 19 September 2020

Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

  • The book tells the story of a young boy from Karachi's Lyari, who is learning about the virus to help others
  • 'Little Master' is illustrated by Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series 'Paak-Legion'

RAWALPINDI: "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book, is going to be released on Monday to guide Pakistani children how to stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic and cope with COVID-19 misinformation.
Published by Mehrdar Art & Production (MAP), the book tells the story of Ahmed, a young boy from Karachi's Lyari area, who is trying to learn about the coronavirus to help keep others safe, regardless of their community background.
"Comics are a great way to tell a story positively and are really useful in countering misinformation,” Muhammad Faheem, documentary filmmaker and MAP founder, told Arab News on Saturday.

The cover of "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book to help Pakistani children cope with COVID-19 misinformation. (Photo courtesy of Muhammad Faheem via AN)

The efforts have been funded by MAP itself and through government and private support. To illustrate "Little Master," Faheem asked for help Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series "Paak-Legion."
Thousands of copies of "Little Master" will be distributed at schools in underprivileged areas such as Lyari, where misinformation has led to blame games and community tensions that affected virus response. Some narratives even questioned the very existence of the virus and necessity to follow any precautions against it.

Umair Najeeb Khan is working on an illustration for the "Little Master" comic book in Islamabad on Sept. 19, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Umair Najeeb Khan via AN)

In May, Faheem rolled out "Hum Sab Saath, Corona ki Kilaaf" ("All of Us Together Against the Coronavirus"), a campaign through posters, social media and talks by community leaders to address the situation.
"It got to the point where relief efforts in these areas were being compromised because people were questioning who deserved help," Faheem said. "We needed to address not only the severity of what was going on but educate the citizens of these areas on what was real information to help combat the fake news and rising bigotry."
The comic book is a follow up to these efforts.
"When kids read our comics, we hope they will learn more about the pandemic and how it is a collective effort that we all have to join together, regardless of our backgrounds."