DUBAI // The children of parents who left school before completing their education face an uphill task in acquiring vital life skills, a new report said yesterday.
Education analysts say such socio-economic factors may explain the below-average results achieved by Emirati 15-year-olds in an international skills assessment test.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test was taken by 5,620 public and private schoolchildren in Dubai in 2009.
Results released last December by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked Dubai pupils 42nd in literacy skills out of 65 participating education zones around the world.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the emirate's education authority and administrator of the test, released a comprehensive analysis of the findings yesterday.
"That over one third of all Arab expatriates and over half of Emirati 15-year-old students would be considered at risk is a reminder of the ongoing need for continued support and education reform in Dubai," the authors of the report said.
Three-quarters of children in public schools were categorised as at risk because of their level of "mathematics preparedness for life", a measure that gauges how well children will be able to apply their maths skills after school. Their reading and science comprehension levels were also defined as understanding only simplified instructions and action.
"We found that socio-economic factors are strong predictors of pupils' performance," said Mike Helal, director for the Middle East and North Africa at Parkville Global Advisory, which analysed the report.
Less than 0.5 per cent of Emiratis attained high reading skills in the test, compared to 1.5 per cent of Arab pupils and 9.4 per cent of non-Arab expatriates.
The analysts argue that a difference in parents' education contributed to the skills gap between nationalities.
About 22 per cent of the mothers of Emirati pupils did not complete high school, and only 30 per cent had a college or university qualification.
Emirati fathers had higher levels of education, with a university completion rate of 37 per cent. However, many parents were early school leavers, according to the report.
By comparison, only 11 per cent of Arab parents and 5 per cent of non-Arab parents had left school early.
Dr Natasha Ridge, head of research at Sheikh Saqr Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al Khaimah and an expert in public education, said pupils' socio-economic background played an important role in their academic progress.
"What we are finding for many first-generation pupils in schools is that their family's education level can affect their outlook towards education as well," she said.
She said the effect was more pronounced with boys. "If the family members are not educated and they are not working, then it puts added pressure on the pupil to quit school and work instead."
Most Emiratis surveyed attended either public schools or private schools using the Ministry of Education curriculum. Most pupils attending both school types tested in the bottom percentile at level 1 or below.
Only 17 per cent of Emirati pupils tested were found to be achieving level 3 - the level required by Pisa to be considered capably skilled. By comparison, 61 per cent of non-Arab expatriates in Dubai were at level 3.
Fatma Abdulla, managing director of the education consultancy Global Consulting Associates, said the education system needed to be revamped for pupils to be more prepared.
"Even if the children are disadvantaged, the school can do a lot, like provide more access to books and the internet, and encourage them to read more. It should be embedded within the curriculum."
Among the top-ranking education zones was Finland, where more than 75 per cent of pupils achieved proficiency between level 3 and 6, the highest level.
In Finland, almost every child attends a state school, but they were still among the top three achieving nations.
Dr Ridge also criticised the public education system - the only affordable choice for many families - for providing a poor quality of education.
"They have schools which are not serving them and they do not get the same inputs and resources at home either," she said.
Dr Ridge said more teacher training and making the curriculum more relevant to real life was key. "Also, counselling services for the children and parents as well as support to the families is the solution."