The UAE’s education sector transformation and teacher empowerment

Veronica Martin spoke to Rishabh Khanna, Founder and CEO of Suraasa, organiser of the International Teachers’ Olympiad about how the UAE’s education sector has evolved, what the International Teachers’ Olympiad offers to teachers and why upskilling is essential.

What is the International Teachers’ Olympiad (ITO), and what does it offer to teachers who participate?

The International Teachers’ Olympiad, introduced in 2022, is one of the largest global initiatives committed to nurturing the growth and professional development of teachers. What truly sets the Olympiad apart is our unique focus on pedagogy. It’s not about the subject you teach (What you teach), but rather about the “How to Teach” aspect of teaching.

ITO provides teachers with the unique opportunity to assess their teaching skills through a comprehensive one-hour online assessment. To all teachers who attempt the assessment, ITO promises growth in 3 aspects:

Firstly, Intellectual Growth. After the Olympiad, each teacher gets a detailed feedback report that helps them understand where they stand globally and regionally. It also helps them understand their performance, strengths, and weaknesses across 6 core teaching areas. After they know about the areas of focus and opportunity for further development, they get support for working in that direction. Next 6 months, they receive a skill-improvement plan every month with upskilling resources and sessions by world-renowned teacher trainers.

Second, Social Growth. The Olympiad has been structured in a way that every teacher, from top achievers to participants, experiences social growth in the form of recognition from different stakeholders. LinkedIn and WhatsApp group filled with appreciation and congratulatory messages from peers is a common sight for ITO participants.

Third, Financial Growth. The Top 100 achievers from the Olympiad are awarded with direct cash prizes. They also have a chance to participate in another initiative – Teacher Impact Awards where they can get a cash prize upto 15000 AED.

Looking ahead, our vision is to redefine the way teachers perceive their roles, refine teaching methodologies, and ultimately shape the future of international education. All this, while ensuring the recognition and respect that they have rightfully earned.

What are the key benefits that registered teachers receive from participating in the International Teachers’ Olympiad, aside from cash prizes?

As I mentioned earlier, the Olympiad is much more than just a competition. It’s about learning and evolving into a better version of yourself as an teacher. Participating teachers gain an array of invaluable benefits beyond cash prizes.

Registered teachers receive personalised report & growth plans designed to enhance their teaching skills and methodologies. On top of that, teachers earn international certificates for their skill development and training, bolstering their professional credentials. Plus, by joining the Olympiad, teachers become part of a supportive community, allowing them to exchange ideas and experiences.

To sum it up in numbers, in addition to the total cash prizes of up to AED 150,000, all participants of the Olympiad also receive access to 6 Live Certified Masterclasses, Personalised Report, and Growth Plans for 6 Pedagogy Areas worth. All of these things which usually would cost AED 1400. And that too, just for a minor registration fee of AED 9.

How does the ITO initiative contribute to the professional development of both individual teachers and schools in the UAE and the wider GCC region?

ITO plays a crucial role in elevating the professional development of both individual teachers and schools in the UAE and the wider GCC region.

For schools, the ITO offers an exclusive School Report that assesses teachers’ competencies comprehensively. This report equips schools with valuable insights into their teachers’ strengths and areas for growth, facilitating the refinement of teaching strategies and overall educational quality.

Simultaneously, individual teachers benefit from personalized growth plans tailored to their needs. These plans guide teachers in enhancing their teaching skills, pedagogical approaches, and classroom engagement techniques. Furthermore, the curated masterclasses empower teachers with cutting-edge educational practices, allowing them to stay updated with global teaching trends. These insights can be integrated within the school’s curriculum, enriching the educational experience for students.

Last year, the International Teachers’ Olympiad witnessed over 2000 registrations from the UAE.  Out of these,13 participants were recognized within the Top 100 category and received cash prizes, along with local and global recognition. This year, ITO hopes to encourage even more teachers from the UAE to register and discover their true potential.

How has the UAE’s education sector evolved over the past decade, and what key trends have shaped its development?

Over the past decade, the UAE’s education sector has undergone a remarkable transformation. The focus has been on improving the quality of education and increasing access to it.

Increased use of technology in classrooms has been at the forefront of this transformation including digitisation in the classrooms. This ensured that teaching is now more learner-centric and using technology tools. Almost 93% of the UAE’s population has access to the internet, improving overall accessibility to education digitally.

Another key trend is the growing emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in recent years. This change has allowed students to keep up with the most advanced educational systems in the world.  With the same focus on developing smart learners, the UAE has also increased the focus on vocational education and soft-skills training. Thus, helping students prepare for their future careers.

Another very important change has been the special focus on quality of education professionals across the region. The Educational Professions Licensure System has been a gamechanging step towards in line with this focus. It has really made the sure the people in the education sector are highly qualified to ensure quality in the process.

In the rapidly changing job market, why is upskilling considered essential for professionals across various industries, including education?

Currently, we are in a professional landscape where skill-based roles are taking precedence over traditional degree-based positions. Upskilling helps professionals remain competitive in their industry and future-proof themselves against workforce disruptions.

For teachers, upskilling holds even more weight. Education approaches are shifting, with online and hybrid learning gaining momentum. Teachers, therefore, need to adapt their methodologies and acquire new tech-driven teaching skills.

Thus, upskilling isn’t just an addition but a transformation that translates into better career opportunities, increased remuneration, and a stronger professional standing. Simply put, upskilling indicates a commitment to continuous growth & development.

What factors have contributed to the UAE’s reputation as a preferred destination for expatriate teachers seeking teaching opportunities abroad?

UAE is a top choice for expatriate teachers, thanks to a lot of factors. The quality of the UAE’s primary and higher education systems ranks among the top 20 systems globally. The country is known to have some of the best educational institutions in the world. Dubai, in itself, has 60 international universities- which is the largest number anywhere in the world.

Thus, it offers a diverse educational landscape to teachers, along with exposure to various curricula, such as CBSE, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge, enriching their profile.  Moreover, the Ministry of Education is proactive in teacher development and keeps launching new initiatives. They conduct teacher training programmes focused on upskilling teachers on enhanced teaching methodologies, programming insights, and technological proficiency all year round.

So, the enhanced profile and professional development opportunities make the UAE a preferred destination for expatriate teachers seeking opportunities abroad.



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