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Stability, quality of teachers and facilities are key challenges this UAE term

Schools face the challenge of keeping a stable environment for students who may be on the move due to regional conflict.

ABU DHABI // Pupil stability in a country with a large population of migrant expatriates is an annual challenge for many schools.

Consistency in education will be one of the main focuses again this year, with increasing uncertainty among pupils in terms of their movements around the Middle East.

"With the nature of the Middle East and the expat environment, students tend to be fairly volatile in movements, so it's trying to ensure we have enough students staying as long as we can to ensure consistency," said Mark Ford, principal at the Dubai British School.

"The Middle East is an interesting area and the volatility of what's happening in the region is always a challenge."

Peter Winder, principal at Al Diyafah International School in Abu Dhabi, said: "Dubai and other emirates are very transient places to live in, so we have to ensure education is as high-level as it can be in a manner that's engaging, stimulating and built on prime learning."

Remaining competitive on the market is another challenge, as an increasing number of schools open up in the region.

"More schools are opening in the Middle East and the Far East and they're very attractive to professionals," Mr Ford said. "So it's about trying to make sure we stay competitive and recruit the best teachers."

Schools have to secure high-calibre teachers to be able to offer pupils the best education.

"We had an 85 per cent retention rate with our teachers, so we're a stable school and that's part of the reason for our success," said Wayne MacInnis, principal at Al Raha International School in Abu Dhabi.

"We have teachers who have been here for years and we go for the best we can get."

With many families moving from other emirates to Abu Dhabi, accommodating students will also be a crucial issue.

"We have to make sure to cater for as many children that apply to the school because, unfortunately, there's a limited number we can take," Mr Winder said.

Mr MacInnis said: "We have a waiting list for a lot of the classes, particularly in the primary section. So we've had to turn down quite a few students."

Even Dubai schools are feeling the pressure to offer enough places.

"We've got a huge demand for places so a big challenge is to offer as many people as we can appropriate education," Mr Ford said. "But our numbers are restricted to 1,100 so we're having to turn people away."

For newly established schools, gaining trust from parents is at the top of the agenda.

"One issue is establishing, maintaining and consolidating an active and positive partnership with parents," Mr Winder said.

For others, logistical challenges lie ahead.

"We're having a problem with our car park, so we're looking to get some support from the municipality to make it a safe area for our students," Mr MacInnis said.

"There's too much congestion right now and we need to put in infrastructure to make it safer."

Accreditation visits will also require schools to intensify their efforts.

"We've got some coming up in March so we have to prepare for that by doing a pretty intense self-study," Mr MacInnis said.

The emphasis will continue to be on the pupil, however.

"With us, as a British curriculum, we want kids to make choices about their learning, be actively engaged and not passive recipients," Mr Winder said.

"Because research confirms that the more senses you stimulate, the greater the retention of learning."

cmalek@thenational.ae

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