x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Al Gharbia schools are national priority

Aging schools in Al Gharbia are being rebuilt and replaced at a satisfactory rate. Building a solid corps of good teachers, which is really more important, will be harder.

As the developed world moves steadily toward a knowledge-based economy, and the rest of the globe struggles to keep up, no country can afford to neglect communities that are saddled with second-rate schools. Every young mind is vital to society, as well as being precious for its own sake.

So it is heartening to learn that Abu Dhabi emirate is continuing to move purposefully toward improving the school system in Al Gharbia, the sprawling Western Region.

There's a lot happening in Al Gharbia, and the pace of change is accelerating. From a Dh73.5 billion nuclear-reactor project approved for Braka to the artist Christo's fanciful Mastaba proposal to assemble 410,000 oil drums, for which locations near Liwa have been mentioned, Al Gharbia is growing steadily more integrated.

Providing high-quality education in the region is therefore immensely essential. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) is, to judge by a report in The National yesterday, well on the way to meeting the school-facilities part of this challenge.

Such infrastructure is a critical start. The other essential element of education - namely assembling and retaining a cadre of skilled, devoted and suitable teachers - remains more difficult.

Construction and renovation projects are enduringly obvious to all. Human resources efforts, by way of contrast, are more thankless, not instantly visible to the naked eye and can be hard to quantify. But they are vital.

In Al Gharbia, the 10,700 students in Adec schools are strongly rooted in traditional Bedouin culture, and so it seems natural that teachers should be too. Exposure to other cultures and languages is important in the school system, but not at the expense of one's own.

Problems with student behaviour are, Adec officials suggest, often due at least in part to a shortage of Emirati teachers who can connect with students - and with parents as well, which is necessary for student instruction.

Building a strong corps of Emirati teachers takes the same resources as a strong schoolhouse: skill, determination, money and persistence. But ultimately the teachers leave the most lasting impact.