DUBAI // The 5 per cent of Emirati children who do exceptionally well at school can be an example for the rest, experts said yesterday.
"This small segment should be studied to draw lessons from their experience," said Mike Hilal, head of a consultancy commissioned by the Ministry of Education to analyse the results of two international assessment tests for 2011.
The tests, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, found Emirati pupils were an average of 50 points behind expatriate children. Just under 30,000 pupils in grade four, aged 8-9, and grade eight, aged 12-13, took part.
The UAE was the top Arab nation in Pirls, with 439 points, and in Timss for grade eight, but is still below the world average of 500.
"The ministry is prepared to take immediate steps to improve education but … needs to know what exactly is required. With these results we have clear accounts of the quality of some schools, and some weak schools that need intervention," said Humaid Al Quttami, the Minister of Education.
"The reading suggests that the Emirati children go to a different type of school than others and this is the reason behind this disparity in the results," said Mr Hilal, regional director for Parkville Global Advisory.
Socio-economic factors such as the education level of the parents and their economic conditions play a role in the academic performance of students, he said.
"But even after you remove these factors from the results there is still a disparity in the level of performance."
Analysis of the results shows that the removal of socio-economic backgrounds of families lowers the disparity to 22 per cent and the removal of demographic factors such as age, nationality and sex shows a disparity of a maximum of 33 per cent. The change of the school indicators, regardless of family backgrounds, can result in 48 per cent difference in the results, a forum on education policy concluded yesterday.
"But the disparity is real and it is existing but we still have to look for the reasons," said Mr Hilal.
Many Emirati children go to public schools, in contrast to expatriate students who are mainly enrolled in private schools, which some experts say is the reason for the disparity.
"The Ministry of Education curriculum is more focused on content and all of its students are content-orientated in standard as well as on the school level," said Alan Egbert, Middle East manager for the Australian Council for Educational Research Limited, the body commissioned with carrying out the UAE National Assessment Programme, a locally tailored measuring test for performance development.
"At the end of the stretch, what students are getting from education are extremely basic skills and that is what is reflected by the results of Timss and Pirls," he said.
However, Tayseer Al Nuaimi, an adviser to the Minister of Education, said: "The figures can be misleading sometimes. On the surface the results show that the private schools, especially British curriculums, are better than the Ministry of Education schools but a more in-depth reading of these results shows that good performance in these schools is not due to what the schools provide but to other factors."
Among the recommendations the forum issued yesterday was the strengthening of teachers' decisions and abilities to move away from the textbooks and develop learning methods that motivate students and make them critical thinkers.