DUBAI // Education experts and school administrators yesterday called for an overhaul in the way teachers are hired. They also said there is an urgent need for more training for teachers already on the job. Two days after the Cabinet released the UAE National Historic Charter, a blueprint for the country's future that outlined ambitious educational goals to be achieved by 2021, participants in a Dubai School of Government panel discussion warned that the national education system's many problems will not be easily corrected.
At the top of their list of concerns: the quality of teacher-training. Simply, panel members said, low teaching skills are compromising the quality of education. In 2008, the Ministry of Education indicated that less than half of UAE teachers had university degrees in education. Its studies also found that some public school teachers had no degree at all. Dr Peggy Blackwell, dean of the College of Education at Zayed University, said the scope of the problem was challenging, citing the "sheer number" of teachers already working in the system who will require re-training.
Another challenge, Dr Blackwell said, was the shortage of funds for such programmes. "One-shot workshops are a waste of money," she said. Comprehensive re-training would require significant new investment in the educational sector. "I think there is not sufficient funding to provide the professional development that we need," she said. "You've got to have follow-up; you need to go into the classroom; you need to work with the teachers."
Numerous studies indicate that teacher quality may be the most important factor in improving student performance. One report, conducted by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company in 2007, concluded that all outstanding school systems share one characteristic: high-quality teachers. According to the Ministry of Education studies, most of the new teachers entering the UAE system had, on average, just two weeks of training.
In Singapore, 80 per cent of teachers have teaching degrees; in Japan the figure is 97 per cent. Plans for licensing teachers were announced in 2008 by the Ministry of Education. They have not materialised. During the panel discussion, Dr Ian Haslam, vice chancellor and chief executive of the Emirates College of Advanced Education in Abu Dhabi, called for a national policy to govern all aspects of child welfare, including education.
"Creative collaboration across the ministries to form an integrated policy agenda would really help," he said. He added that it was "absolutely necessary" that the Education Ministry come up with a system for licensing teachers. There are so many teachers without initial training, he said, that the college could not take them all in at once. According to Dr Haslam, the quality of a public school system affects the quality of teachers that come out of it.
He said not enough newly trained teachers were entering the public school system to make a dent on the system as a whole. Abu Dhabi alone employs nearly 11,000 teachers in its public schools. "Those 11,000 teachers don't have an initial teaching certificate or a level of bilingualism that the new system demands," he said. Dr Haslam said the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) was addressing these problems. Since Adec took over hiring Abu Dhabi's teachers from the ministry last fall, they have required that new hires have a university degree and a qualification in education.
The council is also drafting a set of standards for teacher licensing. Dr Fatma al Marri, the chief executive of the Dubai Schools Agency, a department within the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, said retaining teachers was another problem. "We try to attract teachers but after a few years we see these teachers are searching for other professions or they would prefer early retirement, and I think this is a big challenge," said Mrs al Marri.