x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

‘Teach For UAE’ is worth pondering

Giving young Emiratis the opportunity to explore a career in teaching could attract more of them to the profession

As The National reported on Friday, a project that started in the United States in 1989 to bring high-quality teaching to low-income communities has also attracted a growing number of university graduates into the teaching profession. The UAE could benefit greatly from creating a local version of the Teach For America programme.

The founder and chief executive of the programme, Wendy Kopp, told the Crown Prince’s Majlis last week that the scheme has expanded to 34 countries, including India, Lebanon and Qatar, and continues to have positive impact wherever it is implemented. Young leaders are recruited from a range of disciplines and provided with the training needed for their two-year placement in schools within their community.

While initially the goal was to help low-income communities, introducing this programme into the UAE would lead to another important benefit by getting outstanding Emirati students who are interested in education the opportunity to try out the profession and decide for themselves if it is the right career path for them. Sid Djerfi, the managing director of Middle East Relations, said that in the US and the UK, between 60 and 70 per cent of those who do the programme stay in the field as teachers. Those who wished to continue would be prepared for the reality of teaching as a profession, while those interested in general education policy would have more insight into how it works in UAE schools.

One question is how to entice young people to take part in such an initiative. This will involve several factors, beginning with more effort being made to raise the appeal of the teaching profession. With teachers being important role models for youths, there is a clear benefit to this job being done by successful Emiratis who are close in age to their students and who understand the culture, allowing them to inspire the next generation to achieve their full potential. In Europe, the Erasmus Programme allows students to take a sandwich year as part of their degree. A similar scheme could prove fruitful here and the relatively short-term nature of the commitment required can be combined with a stipend to attract some of the best and brightest into teaching.

Besides being role models, more Emirati teachers in UAE schools can help address other issues such as poor discipline and weak Arabic language teaching. Teach For UAE is an idea that is clearly worth exploring.