ABU DHABI // About 15,000 places will be created by the opening of new government schools in the upcoming academic year.
An update on the institutions was discussed last week when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, announced plans to spend Dh330 billion on projects in the capital over the next five years.
Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) confirmed that 13 schools would be opened between September this year and August next year - eight in Abu Dhabi city and five in Al Ain, to accommodate 14,735 pupils.
Adec already operates 268 state schools in the emirate, but some of these are operating out of campuses built many years ago.
"Some schools don't meet the health and safety measures required of them today, and other schools are not designed as per the New School Model design policy," an Adec official said. "Classrooms may not be spacious enough, technology may be lacking.
"Growth in certain areas is required, especially where new [housing] developments have been established and where the population is growing, such as the new Al Falah in Abu Dhabi and Al Bateen in Al Ain that require schools."
The schools will be built sustainably, modelled on international standards.
Long, dark corridors and patios will be replaced by spacious classrooms for group activities and with outlets for natural light.
Facilities such as an auditorium, science laboratories and sports halls and fields will be added to promote extra-curricular activities.
The schools will double up as community centres after school hours and follow sustainable guidelines in terms of energy used in the classrooms.
Using the strategy deployed in some of the new schools built in 2011 and last year, the campuses are likely to have solar panels that can provide 10 per cent of the school's energy demands.
Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, director general of Adec, said that the improved facilities added value and enhanced the quality of the education offered in Abu Dhabi.
"The new designs and construction concepts keep pace with the development plans in the emirate at all levels, to include Adec's 10-year strategic plan," he said.
School reform began in the capital in 2010 with the introduction of the New School Model, which replaced the archaic methods of instruction in state schools. At the time, comprehensive research by the council - with the support of various education consultants, including Parthenon - found large gaps in the curriculum and school environment.
Children were involved in non-instructional activities for only a quarter of the school year and life skills were taught only once a week.
Music classes stopped in Grade 6 and art was not offered after Grade 9.
Faiza Mubarak, an artist in Abu Dhabi and a teacher in Al Mawaheb School, said the gradual changes meant pupils were now being provided with opportunities similar to those available in good private schools.
"It's a slow process, so you cannot expect immediate results," Ms Mubarak said. "But we are seeing change for the better."
She said that while pupils in senior school still did not have art sessions, they were introducing it through other subjects.
"It is not a structured subject but indirectly we use it to teach science or other subjects," she added.
Shaikha Al Zaabi, the principal of the Palestine Secondary Public School, said the changes in the past three years had created a reversal of the exodus of pupils from government schooling.
"In these years there has been very good progress in teacher and staff training, which in turn has helped raise pupils' achievement," Ms Al Zaabi said.
"A lot of improvement has been noticed in English in particular."
Ms Al Zaabi said she had recorded a 35 per cent increase in the number of pupils who were previously enrolled at private schools returning to her campus.
About a quarter of Emiratis still opt for private education in the capital, and most cite concerns over the quality of English language instruction.
More than 90 per cent of Emiratis graduating from state schools must take remedial English classes in foundation courses before they can enrol in a university programme.
"The gap is slowly closing," Ms Al Zaabi said.
"With better facilities and better qualified teachers I expect more parents to see the benefit."