ABU DHABI // The Education Minister faced claims in the FNC yesterday that the move to a three-term school year had hurt pupils' performance.
Abu Dhabi's Mohammed Al Amiri told the minister, Humaid Mohammed Obaid Al Qattami, he had concerns about the effects of the change from the two-term year. He said that grades had dropped since the system had been switched in government schools in September 2010.
"The number of pupils fighting in the top positions in the year 2009/2010, the year when there were two terms, was 157 in the science track and 26 in the literature track," he said. "In 2010/2011, with the three terms, there was 13 in the science track and 10 in the literature track. We should stop and look at this."
The minister was unconvinced of the provenance of the figures, although Mr Al Ameri said they had come from the ministry's website.
Mr Al Qattami said grades were improving. "I can assure you the numbers are all in continuous increase," the minister said. He said the three-term year was only introduced after receiving the support of a majority of visitors to the ministry's website.
But Mr Al Ameri said the ministry should investigate the decline. While three terms might work elsewhere, he was unconvinced it was right for the UAE. "The atmosphere in the UAE might be different to European countries," he said. "I see that there are negatives."
Mr Al Qattami said the change was part of an effort to improve secondary schools. "Education is very important and the mechanisms to develop it are continuous," he said. "All this was studied and we looked at positives and negatives that could have had an effect on this.
"We were assured that three terms has a bigger positive effect on the development of children and helps to complete the curriculum, and even has a positive effect on teachers."
He said the benefits included reducing the pressure of examinations on pupils. "Regular holidays help kids stay fresh," he added.
In practice, education professionals said examinations at the end of the terms were exhausting for pupils.
Yousef Al Shehhi, principal of the Al Rams Secondary School in Ras Al Khaimah, said: "They are constantly studying for some examination and this has a negative effect on them," he said. "And then at some point they just stop putting in the effort."
He said the issue was more prominent at secondary level, where pupils study 13 compulsory subjects.
Ghassan Hijazi, academic programme coordinator of the Ministry of Education's Madares Al Ghad or Schools of the Future programme, believes the system is also eating away at teaching and learning time.
"At least two weeks are lost in preparing and giving the examinations," he said. "It is also taxing for the teacher, who then spends most of the time correcting papers."
Shaikha Al Zaabi, principal of the Palestine Secondary Public School in the capital, said continuous assessment only added to the pressure.
"They have more projects to complete, one every month and this becomes tedious for them."
But she said the new system had benefits. "It is meant to prepare pupils better for higher education and enhance their research and problem-solving skills," she said. "The problem is the pupils are not prepared for such pressure yet and it will take some time for them to get on board."
The minister said he would provide the council with reports and survey results on the effects of the change.