x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Equal opportunity in education for all

In 2009, Mais Hamoodah and Imtithal Khidir, two Grade 12 students at Al Hikmah private school in Ajman, ranked respectively first and seventh among the emirate's best students. Their achievements show what students are capable of, and emphasise that every student should have the same chance.

In 2009, Mais Hamoodah and Imtithal Khidir, two Grade 12 students at Al Hikmah private school in Ajman, ranked respectively first and seventh among the emirate's best students. What made their achievements all the more remarkable is that both are blind. After meeting the two girls, Ajman's Crown Prince Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid pledged to pay their future tuition fees.

The story highlighted the results that can be achieved, and the obstacles that can be overcome, with the right support. But many public school pupils in the Northern Emirates are not often offered the same opportunities to flourish.

Education remains a fundamental national priority, not only to raise standards across the board, but to ensure that pupils have an equal opportunity regardless of where they live. There is a clear acknowledgement that the state school system needs to be improved, particularly in the Northern Emirates. What has sometimes been lacking is action.

As The National reported yesterday, education officials in the Northern Emirates are concerned that a lack of funding and budget cuts for public school systems will leave them struggling to match the reforms in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The capital's education costs are covered by local Government, while Dubai's federal funding is buttressed by support from the emirate's Knowledge and Human Development Authority. The education zones of Umm al Qaiwain, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Ajman and Fujairah continue to operate under the federal Ministry of Education, which allocates their annual budgets. Officials in these emirates say that more is needed if these schools are operating on a hand-to-mouth basis.

In these pages, The National's columnist Peter Hellyer has detailed his disappointment with a social studies textbook that misrepresented the country's history and state institutions. It is only one example of where the curriculum could be improved. State schools need the money, but also the training and staff, to tackle systemic deficiencies - not just promises to improve.

If they do not receive those resources, children are at a disadvantage from the very beginning. That cannot be reconciled with national development goals. Mais and Imtithal are among so many students who have shown what they are capable of; they deserve that chance to shine no matter what emirate they live in.