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Local lessons for national school reform

Mark Twain wrote that he never let his schooling interfere with his education. Something similar might be said about education policy and the oversight of schools.

Mark Twain wrote that he never let his schooling interfere with his education. Something similar might be said about education policy and the oversight of schools.

There are high hopes for the latest push for reform. As we reported yesterday, the Ministry of Education has expanded its purview to oversee private school education and operations in addition to the areas of policy and support it already oversees. The management of schools - from teaching inspections to buildings - will also now come under the Ministry's remit, not that of individual emirates.

The over-arching principle of having a federal authority standardise and provide oversight for the nation's schools makes sense for the UAE. But that will only do so much to improve them on its own. An examination of where schools systems in different emirates have found success, and how, may be helpful to the development of nation-wide policies. In particular, the Ministry should recognise that the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, (KHDA), Dubai's educational regulatory body, has a track record it can learn from.

The KHDA has effectively raised the bar for what schools are expected to achieve in Dubai. It was the KHDA that announced the regionally ground-breaking standardised maths and science tests, TIMMS. Those tests held Dubai up to an international mirror, revealing their shortcomings, but more importantly, providing a benchmark for progress. The KHDA published the results of its school inspections for all to see, allowing parents to make more informed choices about the education of their children.

Without these innovations, Dubai's schools would have continued to lag behind and transparency and accountability for private schools would never have been placed on the agenda. The reforms encouraged other emirates to follow suit, particularly as changes had been so slow to arrive.

Some emirates have asked for federal oversight alongside local flexibility to adopt systems that take their different demographics and cultures into account. This may be worthwhile. But most of all, it is the culture of excellence that the KHDA helped to engender that should show the way for the Ministry's efforts.

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