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Drastic action, not just words, in school reform

The reality is that there is a two-tiered system in this country. While the quality of private schools varies widely, many are offering curricula at the highest levels of international education.

The problems in the national education system have been starkly identified. From outmoded methods of teaching to a cut-and-paste curriculum borrowed from other countries, the UAE's public schools are lagging far behind in the standard of excellence expected in a country developing a knowledge-based economy.The reality is that there is a two-tiered system in this country. While the quality of private schools varies widely, many are offering curricula at the highest levels of international education. Public schools, on the other hand, fail to meet these standards across the board, a fundamental weakness in the national project to prepare a new generation of skilled leaders.

That is why the Education Policy Series, a joint effort between the Dubai School of Government and The National, has advanced the debate on much-stalled education reforms. Its third instalment this week saw experts discuss the challenges facing the country's public schools and ways to overcome these deficiencies.As we report today, the most drastic recommendation has come by way of an education policy brief, which calls for an overhaul of the country's K-12 curriculum. Drawing partly upon the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec)'s reforms and the Ministry of Education's 2008 - 2010 Strategic Plan, the brief suggests developing a programme based on critical-thinking and problem-solving rather than textbook memorisation.

It also advocates tailoring studies to national concerns by enforcing bilingual education in Arabic and English and involving more Emirati educators in the process. Such recommendations ensure that the country's students may truly benefit from a home-grown curriculum that evolves over time, rather than an Australian or American system that is simply transplanted to the UAE. Reform in such holistic terms requires more than just a technical fix. What the curriculum teaches, how it is being taught, and how the process is being assessed are issues that involve not one single ministry, but a fundamental shift in the scholastic culture of the country.

As the Education Policy Series comes to a close, we are reminded that while dialogue may be the first step towards change, actions ultimately speak louder than words. Indeed, as Dr Farid Ohan, the director of the Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology said this past week about education reform: "We talk about it in the same way we did 12 years ago." The task is certainly not easy or short. There is no quick fix in this equation, and the gains may not even be seen for years to come. But in order for the future generations of this country to truly succeed, change must begin now.

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