Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

How to make our schools even better

No education system can be replicated wholesale. But the one thing everyone agrees is that good teachers make for good schools.

Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi, UAE Minister of Education delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Qudwa Teachers Forum 2017 in Abu Dhabi. Crown Prince Court / Abu Dhabi
Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi, UAE Minister of Education delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Qudwa Teachers Forum 2017 in Abu Dhabi. Crown Prince Court / Abu Dhabi

The tone was set just weeks ago when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, announced: “With the new beginning of the school year, a new national educational vision begins." That vision includes fresh changes to the curriculum, the training of new teachers and several initiatives that place education and the acquisition of knowledge at the forefront of measures to address the many complex problems facing the region. This impetus was heightened when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled a unique initiative that will give millions of pupils across the Arab world free access to a rich pool of online educational and instructional videos in their mother tongue, signaling that modern technologies will be at the heart of efforts to bridge gaps in the education of young people.

At the Qudwa Global Teachers’ Forum in Abu Dhabi, the UAE leadership once more placed education at the forefront of its policy-making priorities, reiterating the central point that education has a key role to play in shaping the country’s future as a knowledge-based economy. And as nations throughout the world attempt to improve their education system in support of the national project, it is natural that they look to others to see what virtues they can graft on to their own pedagogical structures. This is indeed right, but there may be a limited utility. For every country has a uniqueness that must be addressed through local understanding. Finland or South Korea's educational model can't be replicated in their entirety across the world, for example.

That said, if there is one thing that is universally recognised as the most important ingredient in a prospering school system, it is good teachers. But acknowledging this is the easy part; more difficult is discovering how to achieve a uniform level of quality across the board. To be sure, we already have good, dedicated teachers in our schools. We have instead to make sure that we encourage a trajectory of improvement among their fellow members of the profession.

But how? Do we attempt to do this by reducing class sizes, so teachers can devote more attention to each pupil? Or is class sizes irrelevant? Certainly, Asian schools with big classrooms somehow manage to do well in international standardised tests. Or maybe what is needed is continual, in-service training programmes for teachers? Or maybe, as in some East Asian nations, teachers should be encouraged to informally learn from each other. It is certainly right as that even as pupils are encouraged to hone their skills, creativity and talent, teachers too should be exhorted to do the same. The challenge is to find the best way to do so within our own uniqueness. And just like everywhere else in the world, this is an ongoing project.

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Updated: October 9, 2017 06:47 PM