Please allow me to use your column to share my sad experience in the Business Faculty at the Sharjah Women’s College of the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT). I am from South Africa and joined the Sharjah staff in August 2010. I loved being in Sharjah and I loved being at the college. I wish I was still there. I had and still have the greatest respect for the supervisor of the Business Faculty, Ms Lauralee Kilgour. I hated it when her staff said unpleasant things behind her back. Every time I heard Dr Farid Ohan, the director, speak, I was impressed with him. I liked the man and he always spoke a lot of sense. I still recall him with great fondness.
I enjoyed the students, and I generally liked my colleagues. I drew the best response from my students when we read a textbook in lectures and undertook to be competitive in marks. The students liked to hear me speak of their need to be educated to international standards and their need to be globally combative. The students may remember me: I was the academic who refused to be called Sir because it is a term directly from the annals of dubious British colonialism. There is no place for sir and miss or ma’am in academics.
I took no notice of expatriate colleagues who told me that the students were retards. I overlooked the deep fear I found in the hearts of my Sharjah colleagues, lest they share a fate like mine. I did my best to persuade some colleagues not to set tests and assignments that had been used for the previous seven years.
I was saddened by how little was asked of the students. One American colleague boasted that what was covered in 19 weeks in Sharjah would have been covered in two weeks at an American university. I did not listen to colleagues who said the students were not to be trusted.
Almost every student wanted to learn. However, they were not encouraged to learn. Reproducing slides in assignments, tests and examinations is not a form of being educated. Too many of my colleagues spent too much time reinforcing their poor perception of students. I never heard the words inspire, encourage or instil confidence. But I heard the word retards a lot, was told daily how weak the girls and boys were, and was told what the students could not do.
Half way through the second term Mr Ged Ryan, the second in charge, told me I had not passed my probation because my being at Sharjah was not working out for Ms Kilgour or for the college. I was never given a more explicit reason for not passing my probation, and I didn’t ask for one. That decision surprised and saddened me. I thought I was doing rather well in raising academic standards towards international levels and educating the nation. I also wondered how a decision could be taken to fire a person after eight months.
I gather that the HCT is in financial deficit. I am sorry about that. However, that is not surprising. The HCT spent a lot of money to get my family and me to Sharjah. To fire me after eight months demonstrates little ability to recruit the correct staff, a great waste of resources and a lack of managerial ability to manage staff.
I was amazed that the HCT provost, I think his name is Marshall Drummond, signed my firing notice without even talking to me. As the provost, he is the custodian of the HCT’s global reputation. He should have at least spoken to me. I might have been fired for purely personal reasons. By firing me without bothering to speak to me, he put me in the position where I might have mounted an international campaign against the HCT. He should not have risked the reputation of the HCT and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a completely unknown person.
It is not in my nature, however, to mount a campaign against the HCT. Instead, I will say just that if anybody thinks it is moral, scholarly, fair or proper to fire an academic after eight months, then they have been in sheltered employment for too long and their standards are too low. Firing me after eight months was against all commonly accepted scholarly practices and would be illegal in most countries. It pains me to say that in my opinion the Sharjah HCT has tarnished the reputation of the UAE in the scholarly world and as an employer. The UAE and its students deserve better than that.
I wish to stress that I hold no personal grudges against any of the people mentioned here. I accept that you did your best for the Sharjah HCT. I am sorry that Dr Ohan, Mr Ryan and Ms Kilgour did not want me. I liked you and learnt from all of you. I accept that you fired me because I represented the future.
There was little correlation between the wonderful UAE country I found and how the students were being prepared at the Sharjah HCT for their future. If the plan was to produce pleasant, low level government servants functioning without insight, then the plan worked perfectly. However, to be sustainable, the UAE needs incredibly well-educated graduates, who have been pushed at university to read, think, reason and perform, who subscribe to life-long education, are driven to be world leaders, and do not call colonial educators sir or miss. If anyone thinks that the UAE government is preparing the country for its future by setting students the same assignments for seven years, or hiring staff who celebrated the incompetence of students, and then reinforced that incompetence, then they are wrong.
Let me assure the UAE government: the students at the Sharjah HCT wanted a world class university education. They were intellectually capable of responding to world class university education. The students knew they were receiving an education of a lesser kind. I saw the hurt and embarrassment in their eyes when they were dished out sub-standard education. The UAE students may not for ever accept being educated for a second rate role in their country. In my opinion the Sharjah HCT let down its students, given the global challenges that the students will face. The Sharjah HCT was run by lovely people, but their thinking and academic contribution needs updating. I left lamenting the lost magic for myself, the students, the staff, the people of Sharjah and the people of the UAE.
My experience has left me in the position of saying expatriate academics at the Sharjah HCT offered a form of education colonialism. Their work served only to perpetuate the development of the intellectual underdevelopment of the UAE and its students.
The colonial education I saw served mostly to alienate the young people of the UAE from education and a better future. Such alienation is perilous to the future of the UAE. What I saw in the Sharjah HCT was a form of education less helpful to the students than bantu education was in apartheid South Africa of years ago.
I ask the question: does the government of the UAE not care that the Sharjah students are being turned against education and acquiring knowledge? When students said to me they hated the HCT and hated learning, I was saddened. I wanted to make their learning fun, exciting and exceptionally demanding. The students were bored stiff at Sharjah and many of my former colleagues were even more bored. The Sharjah HCT, in my humble opining, needs to be modernised, reformed and stripped of the fear prevailing in the hearts of staff and students. I did not detect much pride in the hearts of the staff and students at being at the Sharjah HCT. I did detect great suspicion. The students were not encouraged to be independent enough nor take enough responsibility for their learning.
To the students I have left behind, I say good luck. You were not being educated to take your rightful place in the world. You were being educated for subjugation. I am sorry I am no longer among you. Of my colleagues I ask one question: would you enrol your children at the Sharjah HCT? If your answer is no, then you are part of the problems that your students have to contend with.
How ironic: I wanted to stay teaching at the Sharjah HCT; countless colleagues told me how lucky I was to be getting out.
If the UAE Ministry of Higher Education would like to learn more about the Sharjah HCT, they can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org. The most loyal people are those who tell the truth.
From Dr Martin Challenor B Soc Sci (Hons) MBA PhD.
Durban, South Africa.