x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Shifting standards undermine pupils

The country needs an educational system that offers an equal opportunity to pupils regardless of where they live. And metrics provided by exams is the necessary first step.

There was a disagreement after pupils improved their exam scores earlier this year. On the one hand, the Ministry of Education credited improved teaching methods and the quality of education for the better results. Pupils, in an admirable display of candour, said the tests were simply easier than the year before. The Dubai School of Government cautioned about being too optimistic.

There has been an unfortunate lack of uniformity in the standardised exams in most UAE schools. The recent introduction of international exams in secondary schools was a welcome step - welcome not because students excelled, but because the results showed how far we have to go.

As reported in The National yesterday, almost 41,000 pupils in Grades 3, 5, 7 and 9 from across the country will begin five days of testing on November 25. The UAE National Assessment Programme will test English and Arabic reading, writing and spelling, as well as maths and science.

What is surprising is that standardised tests in primary schools were abandoned in 2003. While there has been a raft of education reforms at the emirate and the national level since then, the lack of uniform testing has crippled educational priorities.

Ultimately, the country needs an educational system that offers an equal opportunity to pupils regardless of where they live. And metrics provided by exams is the necessary first step.

Two main areas of concern should be addressed by these new tests. First, they should gauge individual aptitude, paving the way for educators to address each pupil's needs. Second, underperforming schools and teachers should be held to higher standards.

"According to the results, we can put together remedial courses and follow-ups to improve the outcome of the students," said Ghassan Jarara, the English Supervisor of the Sharjah Education Zone. "With more training on analysing the results, schools should be able to work on their shortcomings."

There is no doubt that the Ministry of Education faces a complex task - not only to prepare the pupils of today, but to implement the best educational practices for the next generation. Exams shouldn't have been abandoned in 2003, and reinstating a smarter testing regimen is a welcome step forward.