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UAE Indian pupils are book-smart but reliant

ABU DHABI // Pupils at Indian curriculum schools in the UAE outperform those in Kerala but are less able to handle stress, and less socially active and independent, a new study suggests.

Psychologists Dr Sreethi Nair and Dr Smitha Dev interviewed and observed more than 400 pupils in their final years of high school in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Ajman, and youngsters from the southern Indian state.

The results were surprising, said Dr Nair, dean of University College at Abu Dhabi University.

“One thing we keep hearing from parents is that the education here isn’t as good as India, so we wanted to do a comparative study because we want to introduce more Indian expatriates to the university, because the community is huge,” she said.

Indians are the largest expat community in the UAE, with a population of about 2.6 million.

The team looked at what qualities they would expect both groups of pupils to have, including time and stress management.

“One thing we noticed was their lack of ability to tolerate stressful situations in the UAE,” said Dr Nair.

Social factors could contribute to this.

“Schools here don’t engage with students beyond academic life, while back in India they do with youth festivals, competitions, activities outside the class. Here you’re mainly with family,” said Dr Nair.

“That means your parents are more involved in the life of the child and they gain more independence. Here they get into the bus, go to school and come back home. Everything is monitored and screened. If you ask a student to function independently here they get lost because they haven’t been trained for that, meaning their transition to university is much rockier.”

But the upside to having fewer activities and less social time, combined with more parental involvement, was that UAE students focused more on their school work than those in India, which reflected in their grades.

“The results here were much better,” said Dr Nair. “It was an eye-opener for us. When we started the research we predicted the results here wouldn’t be as good, given the feedback we had been given.”

Despite this, many Indian expat parents still prefer to send their children home to attend high school or university, but the youngsters are often unable to cope with the change.

“They are unfamiliar with India and cannot cope,” said Dr Dev, assistant professor of psychology at ADU. “They suffer with depression and other conditions and usually end up having to come back here.”

She said it was important for parents to understand the benefits of their children completing their studies in the UAE.

Nasreen Abdulla, 29, was born and raised in the UAE and attended an Indian school. Now a mother of two, she chose to send her children to an international curriculum school so not to put pressure on them.

“For us at school it was very focused on academics, but now it’s more even,” she said.

“I see my kids doing performances and activities, which makes them more confident. You can see them developing into more of a whole person, not just developing academically.”

Ms Abdulla is on the executive board of her former school, The Old English High School in Dubai, and said things were changing. “I feel there is focus on studies and extracurricular activities, and more opportunities for kids to do these activities than when I was at school,” she said. “I never had anything that I loved to do alongside my studies.”

The findings of the two-year study were presented at the International Conference on Organisation and Management 2016 at ADU.

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