ABU DHABI // The school day will be extended by 90 minutes for all government high school pupils in the emirate from the start of the next academic year. Two more classes of 45 minutes each will be implemented for all grade 10, 11 and 12 pupils in government schools on four of five school days. Another single session of 45 minutes will be added every Thursday.
It is one of the initiatives included in a 10-year plan to be unveiled today by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), which was produced partly after consultation with parents and schools. Dr Mugheer Khamis al Khaili, the director general of Adec, said the move would better prepare pupils to enter university. "This specialised programme for high school students will concentrate on subjects like mathematics, Arabic language, English language, physical education and leadership skills for the students."
The aim of this programme is to prepare high school students for transition into university without their having to go through a year or two of remedial classes, known as "foundation studies", which, Dr al Khaili said, "bleeds 30 per cent of the budget of higher education institutes annually". Earlier this month, Dr al Khaili told The National: "Almost 90 per cent of our students cannot get into university without foundation courses in English, which take up to two years from their education. This has been going on for 15 years. It is time to address this and solve it."
The longer school day will begin with the coming academic year, 2009-2010, which will start on August 30. Students will be provided with lunch during the longer day, and schools will ensure that there is reliable transport back home for students and teachers at the end of the day. It is not yet clear whether the extra lessons will be added at the end of the day, or at the beginning. The school year itself will also be lengthened by 10 additional days for all primary and secondary grades in public schools, bringing the academic year to 165 days total.
An Adec spokesman said that extending the school day and year was just the first in a series of rapid improvement initiatives it will be launching in its strategic plan. Its short-term focus is to deliver rapid improvements in the education system. "The point is not about keeping kids in school for longer hours, but giving them more time with their teachers. Teachers need to focus on problem solving and developing students' analytical skills, not rushing through the syllabus. This is about less time on exams and more time on learning skills."
Today's presentation by Dr al Khaili is expected to cover many areas in education, and address the needs of students, teachers, parents and school administrators. "There are some fundamental challenges that we face in the current system of education, but we have plans to address them," said an Adec spokesman. "The development of the strategic plan was guided by feedback from a comprehensive survey conducted by Adec with parents. Significant background research and benchmarking with leading education systems around the world helped us develop the plan."
Khaled al Kendi, who will start year 11 at the Darwish bin Karam High School for Boys in August, welcomed the idea that he may be able to go straight into university once he graduates in two years, instead of being forced to take one or two years of remedial studies to improve his educational standard. "None of us students are going to be all excited about being in school for more than we usually had to, of course," Khaled said. "But I mean, if this will make us better as students, and make it easier for us to go straight into university without wasting two full years, then it's for our benefit. We won't mind that."
Parents seemed to welcome the idea, despite the longer, potentially more tiring day for students. Reem al Hugami, a mother of three, said her eldest daughter, Miriam, would start grade 10 in a few months and the extended day would apply to her school. "If this is being done to improve education and give my daughter better chances later, then any parent will welcome this," she said. "But I really hope that this plan works."