Schooling and education is all about providing meaningful experiences for students to learn and grow from. So as far as memorable experiences go, offering scuba courses at school is right up there!
As an Outdoor Education Coordinator and PADI Instructor, I have had the opportunity to introduce a little bit of ‘my world’ to many students and staff from Deira International School over the years. Getting people to take the plunge and give scuba diving a try has been a great privilege, and there are plenty of students lining up to get involved.
To begin a PADI course there is a little bit of paper work involved that can sometimes be a barrier for parents who need to sign on their child’s behalf. But most take comfort knowing that the forms also need to be signed by teachers on the same course!
Having mixed groups of teachers and students has been a fantastic way to foster a positive rapport. It also serves to create healthy competition, where students can often find themselves excelling at not only the practical skills, but also the theory. While the students may be younger, they have a mind set for study and love nothing more than seeing their teacher confused at a new concept such as the relationships between pressure, density and volume at depth (the physics teachers do OK here though).
During the teaching of theory and lessons about the underwater world, I had never really paid much attention to the adage that teachers sometimes make the worst students…until I began teaching teachers! Just because a teacher might know the difference between a conjugated verb and an infinitive, or how many wives King Henry the 8th had, doesn’t mean they will ever fully understand how much surface time is needed after a particular dive.
After each theory session, the time comes to issue quizzes and complete knowledge reviews& there is the inevitable rivalry as to who will come out with top scores. Even more so when the final exam is taken to complete the theory sections of the PADI Open Water course! This is where the teachers kick into gear and revise hard to make sure they not only understand the material, but also so they don’t have to walk the halls of school each day to the tune of “I beat you Sir” or “I’m smarter than you Miss”.
Once we reach the stage where everybody is putting together their scuba units, nervous excitement turns to delight as all take breathes in the swimming pool for the first time. It’s normally quite apparent who is going to need a little more attention as soon as those first bubbles are blown in the shallow water. Watching for the wide eyes versus those already confidently high fiving underwater is usually an indicator.
The pool sessions are where everybody becomes proficient in all skills required to take the next step into the open water. Buddy pairs are normally formed in the pool and often remain for the duration of the full course until qualification. Students inevitably decide to buddy pair with one of their friends, as do the teachers. But on some occasions teachers and students work together to practice various skills. It is fascinating watching on as one becomes the provider of emergency air for another during simulations.
After practicing all skills like putting scuba gear together, tired diver tows, recovering regulators and clearing masks, it’s time to get into the salty open water! Typically we dive off the east coast at Dibba. There are plenty of amazing sites for all levels of diver and most have an abundance of aquatic life. Resident green turtles and black tip reef sharks are scattered across many of the dive sites and a highlight for anybody lucky enough to encounter them.
It’s normally at this point in the dive course that I like to explain a few conservation issues and share some of my own points of view. Exposing students to wildlife and sharing the same immediate environment with them, helps to better convey messages about various existing wildlife struggles. Like how plastic bags frequently get mistaken for jellyfish that turtles eat, or how overfishing in areas can lead to serious depletions in the food chain. Generally speaking, most divers are acutely aware of the plights marine life often have. Being able to bring students into the equation helps to nurture a better understanding of these problems, and hopefully create lasting connections with the marine environment.
Students achieving a qualification in diving can use their experience to also log hours required as part of their CAS (Creativity, Action & Service) activities. CAS is a major part of IB (International Baccalaureate) schools around the world. Scuba diving activities have lead students into many projects including marine clean up initiatives, aquatic rescue efforts, underwater photography and even surveying techniques.
With some students going beyond entry level scuba qualifications and on to Advanced Open Water or Rescue Diver, there are even more opportunities that arise for getting involved not only at different dive sites in the UAE but further abroad. Students have come back from holidays with tales of their latest dives with their friends and family from all parts of the world. Parents also come in to explain how happy they are that their child has found an activity they really love, and a hobby the whole family can enjoy together.
So as our ‘Deira International School Scuba Club’ grows, there will be more and more teachers and staff being introduced to the UAE waters. The experiences gained during the course are enduring and lots of fun! As a teacher, there is no greater satisfaction than knowing that the skills and knowledge you impart will be useful to your students. Seeing them in action after a dive course, and appreciating the marine environment with friends & family on dive boats around the Gulf is even more satisfying!
Words + Photos by: Haydon Kerr