Education has changed in many ways over the years, from general behaviour caused by different parenting skills, through to how teachers run their classes and students’ ability to use media and technology. Dorgham Kamel Shaaban, who graduated from a leading UK university in 1981 with a degree in civil engineering, was educated in a different age with different ideas. Here, he explains how what would be considered rather brutal schooling methods today helped to mould him into what he has become in the 21st century – a successful businessman with a million-dollar company, BRANDS.
I was born and raised in a small village called Jalameh, north to the city of Jenin in Palestine. I initially studied in an all-boys public school where I completed my primary and elementary education, where most of our subjects were taught in Arabic. We then moved to Abu Dhabi, where I completed my secondary education at Abu Dhabi Secondary School.
Studying in public schools was both a challenge and an opportunity. It prompted me to be tough, smart, and competitive all at the same time. The inadequacy of the school environment propelled to success because I always envisaged a better future for myself. Our classrooms were cramped with 40 students per class. We were deprived of physical education due to the unavailability of a gym or a playground, and the school canteen could cater to no more than sandwiches. Theatres, laboratories, halls, and media rooms were utterly nonexistent.
If our academic performance pleased the teacher, it saved the student the feared punishment of getting whipped fiercely on the feet
Our teachers were very strict and would beat us with sticks when we misbehaved or committed mistakes. My experience in Abu Dhabi Secondary School, however, was much more conducive to learning; with free food and uniforms, as well as having 25-30 students per class. Teaching was delivered to a higher calibre.
It is delightful to recall a memorable experience I had with my elementary English teacher, which has left an indelible mark on me. He gave us a homework assignment to write 20 words that we had to recite in front of the class the following day. If the performance pleased the teacher, it saved the student the feared punishment of getting whipped fiercely on the feet.
I found it unacceptable and abhorrent, but my opinion bore no weight or significance. So, trying to be audacious to defend my stance, I did not do the homework in order to challenge this much-detested way of ‘disciplining’ students. When asked to recite, I said I hadn’t memorised the lines, and when asked to take my shoes off, I refused, explaining why such behaviour only creates a culture of fear that impedes student development. I even had to bring my father into school because of this, which is something he never did.
Years after this incident, that teacher became a very good friend of mine, and I happily realised that I had sent him a powerful message with what I have done. Despite the teacher himself not being inspirational, his degrading treatment compelled me to be courageous and stand up for what I believe in, which is something I’m grateful to have learned and honed.
I also remember an incident I had with my physics teacher. I came to school with an overwhelming excitement because I was dressed in a new suit. The teacher asked me a question, which I failed to answer. As a response to that failure, he insulted me badly in front of the class by telling me that I was not worthy of the suit I was wearing. That statement made me determined rather than degrading me though, and I promised myself to excel in his subject and prove that I am the best student in his class. I started not only answering all of the challenging questions, but even showed several different ways to achieve the answer. The teacher became immensely proud of me and began praising me in front of my peers for my exceptional performance. Again, the teacher himself hadn’t been inspirational at all, but the incident taught me that with will and determination, a failure could be turned into a narrative of success. A person can either admit defeat or stand up with an intractable power and desire to rise above his complacency and make that failure part of a greater success story.
I joined my father’s food business immediately after I finished my degree in 1981. At a young age, I managed this business and became one of its pioneers, keeping it at the forefront of the industry for several years. Under my management, the company’s influence in the market grew to affect the whole region. Now, I am also running a chain of over 50 successful award-winning stores in the fashion industry under the name of BRANDS.
Education elevates the value of its seeker. My parents lived in a society where education was mostly given to the children of aristocrats. My advice to the children of today is to pursue knowledge and wisdom for a better tomorrow. Education is a sacred privilege that opens doors towards a brighter future, full of peace, prosperity, and love.