Ten thousand teachers are to be retrained as part of an attempt to raise standards in failing public schools, with those who fail or refuse to take part left with "no place" in the system. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said yesterday that the programme would span five years and that every public school teacher in the Northern Emirates would be retrained. "The role of teachers cannot be over-emphasised for the future of the nation," Sheikh Nahyan said. "Unless we have good teachers who want to make a difference, who want to give students the tools to carry on in life, we have a problem." In introducing the retraining measure, Sheikh Nahyan drew parallels with education reforms introduced in the US, and referred to a 1983 study on the country's public school system entitled A Nation at Risk. At the time, the US was "not at risk over nuclear power or terrorist attacks, it was over teachers", he said. The study kick-started public school reform in the country and led to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act that requires schools to perform or face tough sanctions. At present, public school teachers in the UAE are not required to hold a licence. Some have only a high school diploma, and while most have completed university, they do not have degrees in education. "In most countries, to be licensed, a prospective teacher will study the subject they are going to teach, like maths or chemistry, at a university, but then they study education," said Dr Peggy Blackwell, dean of the College of Education at Zayed University. "Many people think that anyone can teach - until they go into a first-grade classroom, or into a 12th-grade chemistry class, and try it. "Teaching is a very difficult profession. So to be licensed, a teacher would study their content area and education." The Government has long discussed the need to certify teachers: "In 1986, before I was even a minister, there was a resolution from the Cabinet to implement a licensing programme," Sheikh Nahyan said. He added that it had taken a quarter of a century to implement something that should have happened in the 80s. The ministry is now due to release plans for a licensing programme for all public school teachers. The teacher-training initiative, called Teachers for the 21st Century, is a partnership between the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Zayed University and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development - Middle East. It is intended to improve pupils' preparation for university. Currently, a third of state university budgets go towards foundation courses that teach students things they should have learned in secondary school, and it takes some students up to six years to graduate. "The most important variable in a child's education is a high-quality teacher," said Elizabeth Ross, a policy and planning consultant for the Ministry of Education. "We can have the best standards for curriculum, the best standards for assessment, we can have the best university preparation programmes, but the critical link is how we impact teacher professional practice in the classroom." A 2007 report from the consultancy firm McKinsey and Company found that top-performing schools all over the world had one thing in common: good teachers.
According to the report, "the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction". The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers, it added. The news that teachers will have to undergo intensive professional development comes shortly after the announcement of a new national curriculum for public schools. Developed by the Abu Dhabi Education Council in 2006, it is standards-driven and focuses on the skills and knowledge children should be expected to have learned at the end of each year.
The old curriculum, which remains in place at most schools for at least another year, has been criticised for its reliance on rote learning. "Learning is not a passive activity, it is an active activity," said Dr Blackwell. "As we know more about how students learn, we have adapted teaching to make use of that knowledge, to make learning more efficient for students... so that they have a deep understanding rather than just memorising facts."
The programme is being introduced to raise teaching standards to international levels and, just as importantly, to train teachers how to use the new curriculum and its assessment mechanisms. The initiative will introduce 10 professional standards for teachers. "The standards will give our nation a shared vision for what the teaching profession should look like and what the goals should be," said Ms Ross. "It will provide teachers with an international benchmark of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values toward their work in the profession."
The programme will be introduced in stages. In the initial stage, which starts this month, 10,000 public school teachers will attend introductory workshops on four standards for professional practice. Zayed University will then select 3,000 teachers for an intensive four-month training programme. "Think of this as what a teacher should know and be able to do to teach effectively," said Dr Blackwell. "What is it that we want every teacher to know and be able to do."
A smaller group of 570 teachers will then start intensive teacher-training at Zayed University later this year. "There, study will be much more in-depth," said Dr Blackwell. * The National