ABU DHABI // A popular American teaching programme that brings the brightest university graduates to teach in some of the country's toughest schools will be launched in the UAE next year. Under the programme, some 30 new Emirati graduates who finished among the top of their class will go to work in state schools. "The idea is that you're bringing outstanding graduates who care about education to the profession," said Sid Djerfi, the managing director of Middle East Relations at Teach for All, the international wing of Teach for America.
"In bringing them to some of the higher-need schools they would work on making sure the kids are achieving their potential." Beyond that, he said, the scheme has the broader effect of spurring on its alumni to progress to more senior teaching and policy-making positions. In the US, Teach for America counts Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of Washington's public schools, among its alumni. It has also been acclaimed for attracting applicants from the highest-ranked American universities.
In 2009, 18 per cent of Harvard's new graduates applied. Since the recession set in, competition has become still more intense. Last year, Teach for America chose 4,500 graduates out of a record 46,359 applicants, nearly three times as many as it received in 2007. Mr Djerfi hopes the UAE programme will be as successful in attracting exceptional applicants as its American counterpart, but acknowledges that it will be an uphill battle.
His organisation will be competing with leading firms such as the investment company Mubadala for a limited pool of Emirati talent. "It certainly is a challenge," he said. "We know that the pool is very small. However, there are a number of things that will be to our advantage. "In any society, there are a number of graduates who want to do something good that is not essentially financially motivated."
Another attraction would be the relatively short-term nature of the commitment required. "One other thing that we see is attractive in other areas is the fact that we're only asking for two years of commitment. "In the US and the UK you see between 60-70 per cent of those who do the programme stay in education. But the fact that our programme only requires two years attracts a very interesting group of people, who really want to do something good."
But the programme has no shortage of detractors. A study in 2005 found that uncertified teachers were less effective in the classroom. Another, released in June, called the scheme's long-term impact into question because of the high turnover among recruits. In New York, 85 per cent of Teach for America teachers had left the profession, compared with 37 per cent of conventionally trained teachers.
Planning for Teach for UAE is still in its early stages and Mr Djerfi says much is still to be decided. Key decisions - including on pay - cannot be made until the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) appoints a head for the scheme. Adec officials hope the programme will address some of the gaps in education. Among its goals are to raise the profile of the teaching profession, address the shortage of English, maths and science teachers, send more good teachers to remote areas, and foster a new generation of policy leaders.
"Adec is pursuing every possible mechanism to elevate education in Abu Dhabi to meet international standards," Dr Mugheer al Khaili, the director general of Adec, said in a statement. "This programme will be an exceptional opportunity for outstanding young Emiratis to give back to the country by helping students achieve more academically, while developing their own leadership skills to benefit themselves and the UAE for the duration of their careers."