x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The Schools of Tomorrow show results today

The MAG programme intends to create a world-class K-12 educational system throughout the UAE. Although it has been operating only for the past 18 months, it can already offer objective data that show it is working.

Educational innovations that actually succeed are few and far between. Most innovations in primary and secondary education either fail or result in mediocre changes that do not lead to the desired outcomes. It would be quite easy to give examples of such failures here and throughout the region. Therefore, it is always pleasing, almost thrilling, to see innovations that actually achieve their objectives. Madares Al Ghad (Schools of Tomorrow), commonly know as MAG, is one such example.

The MAG programme intends to create a world-class K-12 educational system throughout the UAE. Although it has been operating only for the past 18 months, it can already offer objective data that show it is working. The data come from the results of the Grade 12 End-of-Semester-One Examination administered last January. The students from the Madares Al Ghad Schools scored consistently higher than the rest of the students at Ministry of Education schools.

The results are very clear. MAG students consistently scored between four and six per cent higher than students in non-MAG schools, a difference in performance that is very significant. After less than one and a half years' learning under the new system, students' performance on a standardised exam clearly shows that major progress is being made. One interesting aspect is that most schools teach for the tests, particularly for the Common Educational Proficiency Assesment, more commonly known as CEPA. MAG schools teach general English. Instead of tailoring instruction "for the test", they teach their students practical English in a natural and very effective way.

That is part of the integrated approach being used in MAG. Through use of research-based practices in educational methods and techniques, professional development of teachers and administrators, and innovative curricula that combine international best practices with regional sensitivity and cultural norms, MAG is designed to change approaches to education that will meet the requirements and urgent needs of the nation.

Teachers are taught to engage pupils in a learner-centred, active environment that encourages development of students' creativity, motivation and confidence as independent thinkers while simultaneously promoting teachers' ability to innovate in terms of both methodology and assessments. Bold but achievable learning outcomes and assessment standards have been developed and are being implemented for each subject at every grade level; progress towards achieving the outcomes is being monitored through a system-wide assessment and feedback process administered locally.

MAG is improving the educational programmes and curriculum in both Arabic and English. It is ensuring that schools are well-managed and operated through training of the principals, a process that has made major progress in the past 18 months. The project has designed and implemented programmes for professional development of both teachers and school administrators so that Emiratis are taking increasing responsibility for leading their educational institutions. And it has identified the best practices in teaching and learning, developing curricula, standards, assessment methods and teaching materials that that are specifically designed for the UAE and not simply adopted from another country or region.

One hears talk about creating a knowledge society; I have written about the importance of this for the UAE in previous articles. In support of that goal, the Madares Al Ghad programme is designed to address knowledge development issues and create a government educational system that will be a model for the country, for the region and beyond. Innovative programmes in education usually take between five and seven years to begin to show effects. Changing education is important but it is a slow and difficult process. MAG has confronted the challenges correctly and is obviously moving in the right direction. This preliminary data, showing five per cent or better improvement compared to other public schools, is an outstanding demonstration of the potential of the programme.

Are there any other innovative educational initiatives in the UAE that can show such good data so early in the programme? I have seen nothing of the sort: if it exists, someone is hiding it. There is no doubt that Madares Al Ghad is making positive progress. It should be strengthened and expanded soon. Dr Clifton Chadwick is a senior lecturer in the faculty of education at the British University in Dubai