Student ambassadors from UAE visit foreign campuses


Students this year joined well-founded programmes at elite universities across 10 destinations.

As the UAE moves towards big plans to become the best in the world by 2071, authorities are placing their focus on equipping the youth with advanced knowledge in different fields to allow them to work towards the country’s ambitions in achieving a knowledge-based economy.

This summer, the Ministry of Education sent 1,080 school and university students and teachers to distinguished college campuses in the US and Europe as part of their 2018 ambassadors programme.

The two to four-week enrichment programmes in universities like Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford and John Hopkins will allow students to bring home the best international practices in art, diplomacy, sports and innovation to address different local challenges and work towards the country’s goals.

The programme, initially launched in 2016 for Grade 9 to 12 students, covers six fields of the future, innovation, giving, diplomacy, sports excellence and masterpieces.

Dr Amnah Al Dahak Al Shamsi, assistant undersecretary of the activities sector at the ministry, said three fields of diplomacy, masterpieces and sports excellence were introduced for the first time this year.

It was also the ministry’s first time to send 125 university students abroad as part of their Ambassador+ programme.

“We expanded the programme from 349 students last year to 1,080 students this year. This year’s Ambassadors of Education programme for teachers was expanded to include 144 teachers and school representatives to allow educators to teach our children the best practices,” Al Shamsi told Khaleej Times.

She added that the ministry would continue introducing new programmes that will be in line with UAE Centennial Vision 2071 and the National Agenda 2021 to achieve a first-rate education system.

For the choice of this year’s new programmes, Al Shamsi said the ministry looked at the gaps that needed to be filled and the new directions the government is heading towards.

“Since 2015 was the Year of Innovation, we created an innovation ambassadors programme in 2016. This year’s future ambassadors programme at Harvard University addresses programming, coding and artificial intelligence,” said Al Shamsi. “We always look at the gaps, and accordingly, we develop programmes that can enhance student skills and capacity building.”

Students this year joined well-founded programmes at elite universities across 10 destinations including the US, Switzerland, Singapore, the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Canada, overseen by over 80 supervisors from the ministry.

In the US alone, 505 students were dispersed in 11 distinguished universities including Stanford University in California, Harvard University in Boston, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and Washington’s Georgetown University.

While some of the programmes like London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) in Imperial college and Bridge21 in Dublin’s Trinity College were already well-founded and matched the students’ needs, the ministry worked closely with the top universities to establish tailored programmes for the goals of the young visitors.

“We contacted different universities during the preparations of the programmes and discussed our goals, so we could develop specific programmes with the right priorities to benefit the students,” said Al Shamsi.

She added that the ministry picked the universities that offer the programmes suitable for students. The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), for example, introduces the top sports programme in the US, which is why it was among the universities chosen.

Sometimes little modifications were made on the spot. Dr Salam Kareem, sport programme specialist at the ministry who supervised the Ambassadors of Sports at UMass, said he discussed adding a public speaking course with the international professors when he noticed students were shy to speak in public.

“A main element in sports is the ability to speak to an audience and present yourself as an athlete. The young students were shy to talk in public, so we encouraged introducing a public speaking training course to help them improve their skills and develop confidence,” said Kareem.

Selection of students was tough call

Of over 9,000 applications received for the ambassadors programme, the ministry picked the 1,080 students after interviews that tested their public speaking, English and problem-solving skills.

For the Ambassador+ programme alone, the Ministry of Education received 1,224 university students’ applications, pinning them down to only 125.

Sawsan Essa Al Kashf, director of legal affairs at the ministry who also supervised a group of students in Embry Riddle Aeronautical University of the US, said that the criteria differed based on each field and its target and whether the student’s personality matched with it.

“Sometimes, the student applied for future ambassadors programme, but the committee saw they matched for innovation programme,” said Al Kashf. “The interviews focused on critical thinking, speech and problem-solving skills.”

Meanwhile, Al Shamsi said the programme’s main target is to develop positive global citizenship for students and equip them with skills, besides academia, that they can bring back home.

“The programme gives the chance for students to mix with different cultures and nationalities, meet new students, and develop social, personal and communication skills while they exchange knowledge,” said Al Shamsi. “Many international challenges are witnessed differently across countries, and such programmes help students develop a global perspective while looking into issues and finding new solutions,” added Al Shamsi.

What comes after the programme?

Being abroad isn’t the only component of the programme, but the ministry collaborated with different partners to provide pre and post trainings.

The Ambassadors of Diplomacy, for example, were trained by the Emirates Diplomacy Academy in Abu Dhabi before they go on their journey abroad.

Upon their return, students will enrol in other trainings and programmes at the academy to ensure they complete their projects discussed in foreign campuses.

Other ambassadors will also be required to carry on their work. The best projects, ideas and outcomes of the ambassadors programmes will be submitted, evaluated and shared by the ambassadors during the National Science, Technology and Innovation Festival in February 2019.

Source: Khaleej Times