x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A necessary evil in education, whose days are numbered

Emirati parents are commonly forced to choose, for their children, either private schools which often fall short on inculcating the history and culture of the region, or else public schools which fall short in other ways. It's an unsatisfactory choice.

Every parent wants the best for his or her child. So let me be clear: government schools in the UAE are currently not the best option for Emirati parents seeking to provide their children with the best education.

To put it bluntly, public schools in the UAE have a history of coming up short when it comes to the actual transfer of knowledge. Worse, they  have traditionally lacked the proper educational models needed to prepare Emirati students for higher education.

The result has been a somewhat predictable rush to private schools. But this trend is not without serious repercussions. And unless something changes, the next generation of Emirati children will find themselves out of touch with the country’s rich history and traditions.

The majority of the problem lies with public school teachers. Many public schools employ Arab teachers who have weak educational backgrounds, and a poor command of English and other essential skills.

These realities have led many parents of public school students to seek out private teachers to help prepare their children for college or university.

Unfortunately, private lessons alone never seem to equip students with enough to pass their English language placement tests. As a result, many students graduating from public schools lose a year, if not more, taking preparatory English courses. This is a waste of both students’ time and parents’ money.

If parents can afford to pay private school tuitions, they will; their children will undoubted be educated in private schools with public schools being a last resort.

As beneficial as this may be for improving Emirati students’ competency in English, the private school push has its drawbacks. Most importantly, the weak, almost nonexistent Arabic and Islamic curriculum in private schools is endangering the cultural knowledge of Emirati children.

With English as their preferred language, our children are finding it difficult to balance traditional home lives with life at their schools. The gap between the two is forcing children to distance themselves from one while dedicating themselves to the other.

There are two reasons for this dilemma. First, most Arabic teachers in private schools do not hold any degrees in education or in the Arabic language. With no qualifications, these same teachers pass on the Arabic they have acquired from high school or from their daily lives before their arrival to the UAE. As a result, students are taught the Arabic of the teacher’s home country.

Second, the majority of Arabic teachers in private schools speak little or no English at all, making it frustrating for both teacher and students when there is no basis for communication.

In turn, Emirati children in private schools are often missing out on the rich history and culture of the UAE. With a plethora of international curriculums in the UAE educational system, students are receiving a disproportionate education in the history of their schools’ teachers.

This may seem harmless to many, but can at times run counter to our beliefs. To use one example, one of the UAE’s most prestigious schools is teaching children about the history of bootlegging alcohol. Not only is this far removed from the culture of the country but goes against all regulations and principles of the UAE’s educational system.

Parents are being forced to choose between public schools, where their children risk spending many more years after graduation preparing for higher education, or private schools, where the culture and language of the country are not taught.

For many, private schools are the lesser of two evils.

The UAE Government, to its credit, is working to improve the standards of education in public schools. An excellent model has been designed and is now being implemented through stages to ensure that not only do the public schools offer an excellent curriculum, but also Arabic and cultural studies are offered.

But most parents recognise that this model will take many years to implement. In the meantime, private schools need to be closely monitored and should be obliged to teach Arabic at a high level, as well as the history and culture of the UAE.

Failure to do so will cost much more than a private school tuition.

Taryam al Subaihi is a freelance writer from Abu Dhabi who specialises in corporate communications