Teachers in Ras al Khaimah are taking lessons in computing in the hope that it will have a trickle-down effect on pupils and expand the use of information technology in schools. Twenty-six teachers, from public and private schools, who applied for scholarships to take part have just finished the first three-month course. A second round of courses will begin in the autumn.
The training was organised by the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, a think tank founded in 2009, which focuses on education. Attendance on the weekend course was voluntary and homework assignments were given out. Topics included the educational potential of the internet and hands-on training in technology. Anna Batchelder, the chief executive and founder of Bon Education, a Dubai-based company that ran the courses for the foundation, said: "There were some teachers who started the programme who didn't really know how to type much. But everyone shared an interest in technology and everyone was quite motivated."
Dr Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the foundation and a research fellow at the Dubai School of Government, said access to technology was one of the main challenges teachers faced, particularly in the Northern Emirates, said "Really basic things, like having access to the internet all the time, are an issue in public schools," she said. "Some schools have problems paying internet bills, so the internet is not working all the time."
The average annual budget for a public school is Dh100,000. That covers everything from internet connection to school supplies, but does not include teachers' salaries. More than 30 per cent of participants questioned in a survey of 150 teachers and face-to-face groups with teachers and principals said their school had "inconsistent or no internet access", Bon Education reported. In November 2008, the Ministry of Education and Etisalat pledged to hook up every public school to high-speed internet connections. A schedule was never announced.
Ms Batchelder said "A common challenge that we hear among teachers and principals is a lack of internet connectivity." Isam Hasan Abdul Rahman, a science teacher who took part in the training, said public school pupils were not graduating with adequate skills in information and communications technology. "Teachers especially from the public schools need more technology training," he added. Bon Education has set up a website, the Ras al Khaimah Teacher's Network, through which teachers can swap resources.