DUBAI // Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak makes it quite obvious - he does not like foundation courses.
For more than two years, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research has been speaking about the need to eliminate the English remedial programmes, which are taken by 95 per cent of Emirati pupils.
Pupils are enrolled in these courses if they do not score more than 180 points in the Common Educational Proficiency Assessment (Cepa), a test designed to prove a pupil is capable of being taught in English at university.
"It is time to bring together all educational institutions to collectively address the remediation issue that has plagued our educational system for decades," Sheikh Nahyan said in a speech at Dubai Men's College in 2010. "We must commit ourselves to making significant progress in eradicating the need for foundation programmes in our colleges and universities."
The answer may lie in his ministry's Madares Al Ghad (Mag) programme, education authorities say. Pupils enrolled in the nation's 18 Mag high schools appear to be doing better in university placement tests.
"Our analysis shows an encouraging performance of pupils in these tests and a better pass rate than pupils in non-Mag schools," said Ghassan Hijazi, the academic programme coordinator.
He said there had been a 4 per cent increase in the number of pupils who had direct entry to university last year. "It's a slow but steady progression for a programme that is only five years old," he said.
Mr Hijazi said that when the programme began, 40 per cent of the pupils could not even spell their name in both languages.
"It was very difficult to raise them to a point where they can now take Cepa tests," he said. "To some extent it is a reliable one to measure how far we have come."
The Mag project was recently reviewed by the University of Georgia to assess its strengths and weaknesses. Mr Hijazi was not willing to reveal the full report, but said the analysis showed how the programme should move forward.
"We have areas where we need to improve, like more training for the teachers," he said. "But the reviewers also encouraged us to continue with the programme because it has shown results."