x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Reach out to pupils as early as possible

If implemented effectively, counselling should become a fixture for most schools. While its educational benefits are obvious, it can also help students in non-academic areas.

This summer, Mohammed al Merri had a unique glimpse into the future of technology. Mr al Merri, a recent graduate from Abu Dhabi's Higher College of Technology, was part of a group of 60 Emiratis who joined the "Al Nokhba", or "The Elite", programme.

This programme, run at the Globalfoundries campus in Dresden, Germany, offered students a crash course in the elemental physics behind semiconductors and the theory of designing microchips. "For me, I'm studying something that is very futuristic," Mr al Merri said. "It's a very amazing experience."

Indeed, with Abu Dhabi investing heavily in the semiconductor industry, his own future looks very bright, demonstrating the benefits of a well-planned academic path. It is a path that educational leaders want to make into a well-travelled highway after calling for more counselling at high schools starting at grade 9 or 10, as reported in The National today. Professional counselling, they hope, will address serious issues like poor linguistic skills and first year drop-out rates.

The issue of counselling "strikes at the heart of university retention problems", said Tom Alibrandi, director of the academic bridge programme at the American University of Sharjah. "That lack of understanding of what it takes to be a student, along with inadequate preparation in English, are two of the major issues students face."

At present counselling at school levels comes very late, if at all. However, some universities have started addressing the issue already. This year, Zayed University has worked to establish contacts with schools to reach out to students currently in grades 10 to 12 . Bryan Gilroy, an assistant provost at Zayed University, said: "If everything is left to grade 12, it is simply too late."

If implemented effectively, counselling should become a fixture for most schools at an even younger age. While its educational benefits are obvious, counselling can also help students in non-academic areas. Timely advice and attention will influence students in their extra-curricular activities, be it joining sports teams, developing their interests and hobbies, or participating in their local communities.

Mr al Merri is part of an elite. It is hoped that by the time he is designing the tools of the future, new graduates will be ready to use them.