Hundreds of pupils at the Australian International School were immersed in an online maths contest on Wednesday, testing their skills against the best in the world.
More than 60,000 children in the UAE are competing in the three-day World Education Games (Weg), which end on Thursday.
They are among five million pupils participating in the world's largest free online education competition covering maths, science and literacy.
"I enjoy challenges. This game makes maths interesting, so you get persuaded to play because it's exciting to play with kids all over the world, who you don't know,” says Reem Al Amiri, 13, an Emirati pupil in the school's maths club. "I set goals for myself, so I'm always trying to beat my own score. It makes me feel so happy to help other children get a better education. It feels so amazing.”
Every correct answer is rounded up in a points table and helps provide education kits supplied by the United Nations Children's Fund to poor countries.
Unicef's "school-in-a-box” contains learning resources such as notebooks, crayons and textbooks for a teacher and 80 pupils.
In the AIS school corridor, posters motivated students: "Will you make the AIS Weg team? Hurry up. The countdown is on”.
"Keep going. Keep it up!” says Khalil Kashwani, 13, an Emirati pupil as he encourages others in a classroom.
He is among the top 100 picked for an overnight camp organised by the school, where students complete the Weg challenge.
"Hardworking students get in,” Khalil says.
"It's not just about speed, you must get it right. I must get my time management right. It's fun to beat your friends, understand what level you and your opponent are at.”
The pupils have 60 seconds to answer as many questions as they can in each challenge. They can compete in three sets of 20 games or challenges spread across maths, science and literacy. Junior schoolteachers Blair Ramsay and Kustave Heino have helped them prepare.
"There are fast players, but they may go wrong. So a player at a consistent pace could get ahead. It's pretty strategic,” Mr Ramsay says.
On the Weg site, a live screen tracks top-scoring pupils and schools.
"The immediate visibility and feedback give a sense of achievement because they can immediately see their scores,” Mr Heino says.
Parents, too, were energised.
"I'm happy my daughter is competing, she is excited and so am I,” says Hay Al Nuami, the mother of a Grade 7 pupil.
"I want our school to be first, I want my daughter to be one of the best.”
Keen competition also drew the interest of Dana Ahmed, 12, from Iraq.
"We are constantly checking the leaderboards to see who is ahead,” she says.
"I focus on accuracy because speed will not determine how good you are. I feel privileged we have resources in school. Earning points is like giving back to others.”
Fifty-three per cent of pupils at the school are Emirati, with 63 other nationalities represented. The school was among the top five to 10 globally in different age categories in the 2013 games.
"Such contests are a stimulus for all learning,” says Lynette English, the junior school principal. "It's not just about being the first, but it gives them a sense of challenge. We can't teach that from a textbook.”
Source: The National