Balancing investment and profit and teacher licensing key challenges for education sector
DUBAI // Getting every teacher through the UAE’s licensing system and maintaining a clearer balance between investment in schools and profits will be key challenges facing the education sector into the next decade, experts say.
Although the overall quality of education provided at schools was getting better, in some areas of the country there was little improvement.
“[We need] possibly, and hopefully, an amalgamation of those overseeing education so that everyone sings from the same hymn sheet and in-country disparities are eliminated,” said Judith Finnemore, an education adviser with Focal Point Management Consultancy.
But longer-running issues would continue owing to continued economic uncertainty, especially the scarcity of good-quality teachers, particularly in Arabic lessons, she said.
This wider global uncertainty led to job cuts and salaries stagnating, meaning some well-paid expatriates who could normally afford high school fees were being forced to rethink their finances.
“Owners will face the need to realise that schools are not really profitmaking concerns,” Ms Finnemore said.
“Schools always need high levels of investment because improvement costs money.”
As well as making sure every teacher has completed the licensing, it was essential that those vetting teachers were also high-quality educators.
The National Qualifications Authority (NQA), which is coordinating the teacher-licensing project with the Ministry of Education and other organisations including education regulators, said it would be introduced next year. The project is expected to be fully implemented by 2021.
“The various bodies must sit together and decide this without delay,” Ms Finnemore said. “Then, once teachers all have the same standards, there needs to be a UAE salary scale that applies to all schools.
“This happens elsewhere in the world, so why not here?”
The longer-term quality of schools could be improved by giving the highest ratings only to schools that have had B ratings for at least three inspections, she said.
Emirati teachers should be more involved in writing textbooks for the UAE National Curriculum and the examination system for Ministry of Education schools should also be as robust as those in the UK and elsewhere.
“We need more involvement of industry in schools by linking business mentors with schools,” Ms Finnemore said.
But despite the strides made in education, more needed to be done to prepare children for higher education and work.
“Where is the vocational input to schools?” she said. “There are UK qualifications called Btecs and these are perfectly worthwhile, yet they are not recognised as fit for schools here.
“Many schools are still highly textbook-driven and we hear too often how parents want this and that. It is not about what is good for children.”
Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Ras Al Khaimah based education think tank Al Qasimi Foundation, said small for-profit schools could be worst hit in an economic downturn.
“Larger groups such as Gems have economies of scale, so they would be fine,” she said. “Long-established, non-profit schools with good reputations would be fine because there is always demand for these schools.”
She called for a more diverse education sector with a wider range of non-profit schools.
Mr Ridge said the UAE’s stability in a tumultuous region would continue to attract investment and pupils from other Arab countries and South Asia.
Kimberly Taylor, academic adviser at the new American curriculum Clarion School in Dubai, said schools should focus on building the ability to “communicate and collaborate”.
She said: “By teaching children how to better communicate and work with one another, better prepares them for the wider world.
“By developing these skills, along with problem solving, children could more readily apply what they learnt to the real world.”
Updated: July 12, 2016 04:00 AM