Earlier this month, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates and spent time in Dubai and Sharjah. I was impressed with the region’s beauty and magnificent architecture. With regards to education, the emirates are looking at worldwide examples from the U.S. to Victoria, Australia where they are building six model schools in order to push the envelope with regards to learning styles, assessment, and using technology. 

I found an overall general appreciation for the arts.  When I met the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi, he stressed the importance of building community and really using education as a cornerstone for not only creating arts, but as a way to build a connection to the community and the culture in the area.  And, certainly, there's a focus on employability and getting students prepared for careers like engineering and medicine, etc., but I think education is recognized as a differentiator for quality of life. 

I think it’s an important concept because the folks I met with referred to education as sort of a foundation of the arts…that if you don't have a good education system, you don't really have a good arts environment or culture that's created from it.  So it becomes a foundation for creating culture as well as quality of life for the citizens. 

I saw the University of Sharjah and had the opportunity to go through the student union at the American University of Sharjah and sit in a computer lab. Like many other institutions I've visited…students are excited and there's a dynamic atmosphere with students huddling around computers, getting access to the Internet, sharing, squeezing each other off the printers, etc.  I think there is huge opportunity here for creating a one-to-one access program for students, and really think about some of the employability tools and ways to create access through programs like DreamSpark and IT Academy, which the American University of Sharjah is using already. They’ve done a great job focusing on teaching and learning, now they are recognizing they need to make the full picture work more efficiently and effectively as well across their very large campuses.

In the picture below from left to right: Dr. Amr Abdel-Hamid, Special Advisor to the Ruler of Sharjah for Higher Education; the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi; Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Worldwide Education; Azza El Shinnawy, Microsoft Education Lead for the Gulf.