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UAE, UAE, ABU DHABI - Health & Education

Shawn Lee Dilly

Director General, Emirates National School (ENS)


Shawn L. Dilly, Ph.D. is a school leader, mentor, international author, speaker, and innovator passionate about ensuring students are ready for the future. He is the Director General of ENS in the UAE. Dilly has served as a superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, director of secondary curriculum & instruction, facilities director, transportation director, career & technical director, administrative director at a multi-county career & technical center, principal, and assistant principal, among other roles over his 21-plus years in education.

"Innovation, creativity, and all the corresponding elements are essential."
ENS prioritizes emotional and mental support for children as well as social-emotional learning and resilience, fundamental skills necessary for navigating the challenges of today.
How crucial are emotional and mental support for children in today’s world?

Emotional and mental support is a paramount and essential part of education that has grown significantly in the last few years due to COVID-19. It has always been important, but the pandemic has amplified the importance of social-emotional learning as a component of our work. Moving forward, resilience will be a vital foundational skill for students because it is about dealing with all the challenges that come with life. Young people will see many ups and downs, job changes, and everything else that comes with them. The more schools can prepare students for those realities by developing coping skills and social-emotional learning strategies that help them navigate life, the more successful they will be. This need goes beyond students and can also be applied to our staff, as the stress of dealing with and supporting young people’s wellbeing is difficult. We must consider the wellness of our entire organization, which is a positive outcome related to the pandemic. Overall, wellness is considered more of the responsibility of leadership and must be brought forward as a primary focus in schools’ learning objectives.

How important is it to cultivate a purpose-driven education once wellness has been created?

Purpose has been brought forward more in the business sector and is viewed as an essential element in recruiting and retaining talent. It goes back to a more fundamental issue, the desire to have a fulfilling life. This concept is an area where schools have room to grow, and it is inherently becoming increasingly relevant in the business sector. Many people think of entrepreneurship as a monetary business; however, the expanded version of this definition is creating value. Suppose we can teach kids to create value, regardless of whether their ideas can be monetized or not. We must give young people opportunities to engage with causes that they are excited about and promote positive social good. It does take some work to cultivate students’ passions toward a purpose, but we are having those preliminary conversations on how to engage students better with entrepreneurial endeavors and finding their purpose.

How does digitalization play a role in a knowledge-based economy?

Innovation, creativity, and all the corresponding elements are essential. Part of the challenge in education is keeping up with rapid change. Technological changes and other economic influences have profound implications on how we work and live, so we must create an educational system that adequately meets that demand. The challenges we face are changing faster than we can keep up with, and inherently schools are always behind; however, I am concerned that we are falling further behind globally because our focus is on the wrong priorities. Schools need to be dynamic and flexible, equipped to handle the rapid rate of change, but they are not. For example, when we buy tablets for everyone and teach them how to use them with minimum levels of fidelity, the technology is already obsolete. The timeframes for these advancements will only become shorter in the coming years, especially with AI, automation, and other elements becoming more prevalent and redefining how those tools work with us. It is, therefore, important that schools continue to transform themselves. This reality is why I am a major proponent of having business and industry partners because they are far ahead of the game in many aspects. Future predictions indicate that business will become significantly more integrated with education and create more direct pathways for students, which is an important step. I am optimistic, especially with the recent opening of our technology and career center programs on two campuses. We are actively looking for partners to build some of those pathways and develop career-based curricula. We are working to create more career exposure and hands-on experience because many traditional career pathways will continue to evolve or gradually be replaced by automation.



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