ABU DHABI // A three-year-old pilot programme in state-run schools fails to adequately teach Arabic, which is a "breach of the Constitution", a Federal National Council committee said yesterday. The programme, called Madares al Ghad, or Schools of the Future, was launched at 44 schools in 2007 to help modernise the education system. The plan was for it to be adopted by more schools if deemed successful.
But the FNC's education, youth, media and culture committee said the Ministry of Education's programme was "not paying due attention" to presidential directives about the promotion of the Arabic language. In schools using the Madares al Ghad system, classes taught in Arabic have been reduced from seven to five per week and classes taught in English increased from six to 10. Mathematics and science are taught in English. Less time is spent on rote memorisation and greater emphasis is placed on problem-solving and interactive learning.
The FNC committee's report said this had "negatively affected teaching the Arabic language, which leads the committee to deem this as a deepening of foreign cultures." In April, principals of a number of schools under the Madares al Ghad programme complained during a meeting of the FNC committee that the teaching of science and maths in English was undermining the pupils' Arabic skills. One said the Arabic vocabulary of younger children was so poor that some could not name their body parts.
During a five-hour debate, several members of the council criticised the Madares al Ghad's focus on teaching English at the expense of Arabic. But the Education Minister, Humaid Mohammed al Qattami, insisted there was a need to give attention to teaching English to cater to the demands of the local jobs market. The committee report also said the shift to English was important because English is the language of instruction at UAE universities.
"Everyone talks about the needs of the job market to justify the need for English language," said Yousef al Nuaimi, a member from Ras al Khaimah. "If we're talking about the labour market, why are some people who speak no English getting paid four times more than doctors who are taught in English? "We have imposed [English] everywhere. We go to malls and salesmen speak in English as if we are in a foreign country. Would that happen if we go to an Asian country?"
Abdul Raheem Shaheen, another representative from RAK, said: "The idea of Madares al Ghad was reduced to teaching English language. Teaching children in a foreign language changes their behaviour and studies have shown that even their comprehension would be weaker." A number of members echoed his concerns. A survey conducted by the education committee showed 73 per cent of pupils at Madares al Ghad schools deemed the new curriculum "difficult and incomprehensible", while 44 per cent of them preferred the old curriculum.
The report did not say how many pupils were polled. Mr al Qattami told members he agreed the teaching of Arabic language was important. "Our goal should be focused on promoting Arabic language," he said. To meet that end, he said, the ministry will launch an Arabic language centre early next year. He said the main task of the centre would be to train Arabic language teachers and improve the Arabic curriculum.
Hamad al Madfaa, a member from Sharjah, accused the ministry of wasting more than two years without releasing information that showed whether the programme was making progress. "We have the right to know where the money that was wasted in Al Ghad schools had gone," he said. Mr al Qattami said he could not make a judgement whether the programme was "a success or a failure" until the evaluation was finished.