x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Drive to improve public schools

The head of a teacher training college has warned that principals not willing to be retrained could have to leave their jobs.

Professor Ian Haslam, vice-chancellor in his office at Emirates College for Advanced Education.
Professor Ian Haslam, vice-chancellor in his office at Emirates College for Advanced Education.

ABU DHABI // Government schools lack resources and support and have some way to go before planned changes take effect, according to the man charged with training the emirate's teachers. Prof Ian Haslam, the new vice chancellor of Emirates College for Advanced Education, will play an important role in Abu Dhabi's drive to improve its public schools and is aware of the size of the problem. "The system, from what I can see, has been under-resourced in its physical community, the schools, technology, curriculum support and extra-curricular support that needs to be in place for a successful education system. I'm not sure it's there," he said. Prof Haslam, 56, a Briton, is responsible for training hundreds and retraining thousands of public school teachers. He has worked in Jamaica, the US and Canada, as well as Singapore, which has already undergone the root-and-branch education reform the UAE has been talking about for a decade. His teacher-training college, which opened in 2007, enrolled more than 600 Emiratis last year. Over the next two years, it expects to give additional training to 2,000 teachers already in the job. It mirrors work being done in other parts of the UAE, including a programme to retrain 10,000 teachers in the northern Emirates. The college aims to create teachers trained in what Prof Haslam describes as a "creative pedagogy", which means less of a reliance on rote learning and more on group work, field trips and problem-solving activities- and "enriching" the curriculum with art and music. The key, Prof Haslam said, was to "capture imaginations". "If teachers cannot do that in the classroom, it doesn't give students an incentive to do well. We should be in the business of teaching teachers to teach children to teach themselves. What a fantastic concept that is. Teachers must be shown there are different ways to teach and know it's OK to try them. "You're going to have as many as two or three thousand teachers trained in these creative pedagogies. In five years' time, if the programme rolls out how we're envisioning it, there will be a different look to the system." Prof Haslam would also like to change the balance between male and female teachers. Recruiting Emirati men is a struggle and only 11 of the 402 Emiratis taking bachelor's degrees in education at his college are male. "Young male Emirati boys need Emirati role models if possible. If you're teaching social studies and you have some stories about people's roles and responsibilities, then it's critical you attract more males. "There are some cultural things about whose role it is to nurture children, but we have a responsibility to make our offerings a little bit more interesting, in conjunction with improving the professional life of teachers." That includes improving salaries, benefits and resources and offering men the chance to specialise in physical education - Prof Haslam's own discipline - along with an academic subject. "If you want a decent number of male teachers in the system, you will offer PE and English, PE and science. We already have these courses in place." Another priority is improving the quality of school principals. The principal is critical, he said. "If they're creating an environment where it's great to come to work and it's OK to try, we'll be all right." Some principals will get the chance to take a master's degree in educational leadership, while others may require lower-level training to improve their abilities. Prof Haslam said there may not be a place for those reluctant to improve their skills. "Those who want to come will come. Those who don't will disappear. There will be attrition of people who don't want to be trained in a system that moves forward with English as the dominant language and a creative pedagogy," he said. That may require hiring of teachers from countries whose main language is English. "I'm expecting teachers from around the world." dbardsley@thenational.ae