DUBAI // Teaching in Arabic should be compulsory in state universities, Federal National Council members and linguistic and educational experts have urged.
Lessons taught in Englsh are "a clear violation of the country's constitution", said Jamal Al Mehiri, a cultural adviser in the Dubai government. Article 7 of the Constitution states that "the official language of the federation is Arabic", he said.
"I am asking that the FNC require UAE universities and schools to teach in Arabic, otherwise we will take to court any university that imposes English on our children.
Hamad Al Rahoomi, an elected FNC member from Dubai, said: "We want teaching to be in Arabic. We have doctors graduating from our universities who cannot fill out an application form in Arabic. The situation in government universities is going from bad to worse. We also need to enhance Arabic in private universities."
"It is not accepted to have a curriculum in any other language than Arabic, not because we reject other languages … but because all successful nations grew with their own languages," said Dr Mona Al Baher, head of the FNC's education, youth, media and culture committee. "We need to understand that the Arabic language is not an obstacle to development."
Dr Al Baher and the others were speaking at a seminar on the status of Arabic, its future and its relation to national identity, the last in a series of meetings between the committee and educational and linguistic experts. The committee will issue a report to the council and cabinet on policies and measures needed to enhance Arabic, especially among young people.
The creation of new laws and better enforcement of existing ones are likely to be among the recommendations in the report, said Dr Al Baher.
The FNC will also discuss its findings with the Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Mohammed Al Gergawi. "We have a supervisory role to play and as part of that we need to ask those responsible for implementing government initiatives … why their work has come to a standstill," Mr Al Rahoomi said.
In 2008 the Government made Arabic the official language in all federal authorities, but enforcement has been limited.
Experts warn of the effect the deteriorating status of Arabic is having on Emirati society and identity. "The majority of our children are lost," said Dr Mariam Al Suwaidi, professor at the department of Arabic language and literature at UAE University. "They are not good in Arabic or English. This is the real problem. The language is important to our identity."
Only 50 of 13,000 students at UAE University are studying Arabic, while many other universities do not even have an Arabic literature department, said Dr Saif Al Mahrouqi, from UAE University.
"We are in need of a political decision to make Arabic compulsory in all government institutions, including universities," he said.
Fines or closures in case of failure to comply are among the measures suggested by Dr Al Mahrouqi to better enforce rules and government initiatives.
"The problem of the diminishing role of Arabic is everywhere, including in the education departments of universities," said Dr Najwa Al Hossani, from the department of education at UAE University. "One of my students who was studying to become a teacher could not even spell the word sun correctly in Arabic."
The greater problem, Dr Al Hossani said, is that English is increasingly being viewed as an essential tool for teaching among those setting the curriculum.
"Even for a person studying to become a teacher in Arabic, about 57 per cent of the curriculum is in English," she said.