One of the main features of the intensive social development in the United Arab Emirates during the last two decades has been the emphasis on better schools. Equal educational opportunity has been the policy for both genders, so both male and female graduates have been encouraged to develop careers as educational professionals. As a result, a dedicated national cadre of teachers and administrators has taken up duties throughout the educational system. Some of the brightest stars in that academic constellation are women.
Doctor Amina Khalifa of the Centre for Guided Professional Orientation in Sharjah has certainly earned her place in the spotlight. Reem Mahmoud from Al Shindagah met with this high achiever to learn about her life and her concerns for the future of education in the Emirates.
Doctor Amina earned her Ph.D. in Educational Planning from Ain Shams University in Egypt. She returned to the Emirates to join the Faculty of Education at the University of the UAE. Her activities have not been restricted to her job, however, as Dr. Amina has sought to demonstrate her commitment to the development of her country and to improving opportunities for her fellow women.
She has been an active member of the Umm al Mu'minin Association for Women, which engages in social work with Emirati females, providing counselling and offering training courses. Dr. Amina asserts that "The Emirati woman is a hard worker who is capable of being very productive, but what she needs most of all is to trust more in her own capacities. She is intelligent and is capable of giving much more to her family and her country.
The proudest achievement of Dr. Amina Khalifa has been the establishment of the Centres for Guided Professional Orientation. She is responsible for the Centre in Sharjah. The Doctor had become familiar with the lack of access to non-formal education opportunities for many in her society because of her voluntary work with women's associations. She realised the great need for professional counselling for such individuals, as by improving their lives the country would benefit from the development of a new social resource.
Dr. Amina and her superiors in the Ministry of Education also realised that there was a need for assisting teachers in the Ministry to develop careers and skills by periodic exposure to current educational methodologies. In a careful process presided over by the Ministry, the plan for the educational centres was developed and then implemented.
The Centres for Guided Professional Orientation now function in all of the emirates of the UAE. These educational facilities provide courses in management, Islamic studies, education, psychology, and the Arabic language. The curriculum avoids scientific courses, as it was felt that a costly investment had already been made in laboratory facilities elsewhere in the educational system. The available resources were therefore focused on reaching out to a broader age group, particularly to women, with more generalised courses of study. In order not to isolate the progress of the students, the educational systems of the centres have been correlated to the academic and administrative systems of UAE University.
Dr. Amina explains that the educational level of the centre courses is adjusted to match the social status and academic competence of the students. The important objective is to cast the academic net wider to provide all citizens the opportunity to advance themselves. In addition to the lectures and seminars at the centres, a wide variety of activities are promoted, with site visits to various social and cultural institutions and to government facilities.
Dr. Amina talks with such animation and interest about the centres that it is difficult to shift the focus of attention onto herself. She confesses that her priority is to work for the development of women here in the Emirates. Through organizations such as Umm al Mu'minin, she has for years offered her assistance and experience to contribute to solving the problems of her fellow women. She expresses gratitude to those women, because she feels fortunate to have been exposed to their concerns. "There has been a lot of response to our efforts, which has led to new ideas which help us to draw up better plans."
Some academics find refuge in the rarefied domains of literature and science, but Dr. Amina is not among them. From the time when she was a student going through the rituals of earning diplomats, to the busy present as an administrator, educator and volunteer, Dr. Amina says that it has always been easy to keep sight of her special objective of helping her fellow women here in the Emirates. With so many activities and people demanding slices of her time, Dr. Amina is definitely not the stuffy academic. "I don't have any problem with working with others. On the contrary, I like to work and I enjoy dealing with a wide variety of people."
Dr. Amina encourages every professional to consider donating some time as a volunteer. Extra hands are always required to assist with social programs, and this patient woman sings the praises of social activism. "Voluntary social work is closely tied up with self-motivation. If you are aware of the value of this work and its positive effect on others less fortunate than you, then you will find the time for voluntary activities."
Dr. Amina especially wants to encourage her fellow Emirati women to help. Donating money is fine and should be praised, but the Doctor insists that by also contributing time and effort, not only does the recipient get a chance for improvement, but also the volunteer.