Despite the constant reforms in UAE education, students at national curriculum schools continue to perform poorly in literacy, science and mathematics. Two international assessment tests for 2011 have revealed a performance gap between Emirati and expatriate children.
As The National reported this month, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls), show that Emirati pupils were lagging significantly behind expatriate children. The tests also revealed that the performance of pupils at UAE schools, even though it's better than in other Arab countries, is below the world average.
International tests, such as Timss and Pirls, provide decision makers with some insight on what areas need the most work. As the Minister of Education, Humaid Al Quttami, said, these results give "clear accounts of the quality of some schools, and [of] some weak schools that need intervention".
Reforming education and improving outcomes is a work in progress for the UAE, requiring input from both the Ministry of Education and local education authorities. Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), for example, has been working on a long-term school-reform programme to improve the school curriculum, change teaching methodology and recruit more qualified teachers.
However, writing legislation and spending money are easier than building human capital. The previous absence of a clear vision - Adec is relatively young and was only established in 2005 - has had a negative impact on both students and teachers.
Some short-term pain in education reform is inevitable. Raising standards requires improving the whole system, starting with the school curriculum and ending with good management. It also requires a considerable adjustment from both students and - especially - teachers. All of that takes time.
Only then will initiatives like the Timss and Pirls studies begin to show that we are narrowing the performance gap.