x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Abu Dhabi parents: 'Teach our children in Arabic'

Parents of pupils in the capital's state schools have told education chiefs they want their children to be taught maths and science in Arabic, not English.

Adec, the Abu Dhabi Education Council, has spent millions of dirhams since 2010 gradually introducing lessons in English as part of its New School Model.
Adec, the Abu Dhabi Education Council, has spent millions of dirhams since 2010 gradually introducing lessons in English as part of its New School Model.

DUBAI // Parents of pupils in the capital's state schools have told education chiefs they want their children to be taught maths and science in Arabic, not English.

Adec, the Abu Dhabi Education Council, has spent millions of dirhams since 2010 gradually introducing lessons in English as part of its New School Model.

The intention is to prepare young people better for being taught in English at university. Only 12 per cent of students can begin university studies without taking a foundation course.

However, 82 per cent of parents say they prefer maths and science to be taught in Arabic.

More than 50,000 parents of children in state and private schools filled in questionnaires sent out by Adec last year to rate progress, teachers' performance, school environments, curriculum, extra activities, the cost of education and communication. Of the surveys returned, 62 per cent were from parents of children in government schools.

"Many parents question why we teach maths and science in English," said Dr Masood Badri, Adec's head of research and planning. "I believe it is not just mathematics or science but they are generalising that Arabic is not being given attention.

"Parents feel their language and culture are being neglected. This is true."

Dr Badri said there was need to move to a bilingual model because of the disconnect between school education and preparedness for university.

Dr Christina Gitsaki, head of foundation programmes at Higher Colleges of Technology. said subjects such as mathematics had very low language content. "It is mainly symbols and equations and that can be taught in English because the concept will remain the same."

Introducing a bilingual model at the early stages was beneficial, she said. "They learn both languages effortlessly when young."

Most scientific research is also reported in English, she said. "If the country is aiming to be a knowledge hub, then students who come to higher education need to be able to be able to read international literature and publish in English."

The lack of Arabic resources also poses a challenge to teaching these subjects effectively in the pupils' mother tongue, Dr Badri said. "We have to consider the material available. Most of the resources and books are available in English.

"The council is working to develop more material in Arabic. We hope that in the next five years we will have such a bank in place and, in the long run, we could provide students an option to chose whether they want to learn these subjects in Arabic or English."

Eman Lutfi Hussain, a teacher at Al Selaa School in Al Gharbia, did not find the results surprising.

"This is true, parents are not happy with us teaching in English," she said. "One of the main reasons is because they do not know the language and some of them do not appreciate its importance."

She said English teachers who came from a different culture and were not bilingual were also seen as a problem. "It is difficult for them to communicate with the children in class," she added.

Yet despite their objections to English teaching, about 76 per cent of parents admitted they had noticed an improvement in their children's English skills.

They were less satisfied with the teaching of the Arabic language, with 33 per cent saying it should be improved.

Among other complaints raised in the survey was a perceived lack of communication from schools - 80 per cent of the parents surveyed said the school got in touch only if their child broke the rules. Twenty three per cent also complained about schools' unsatisfactory monitoring and management of unruly behaviour and pupil violence.

Adec is setting up a unit to support schools in improve their parental engagement levels. "About 50 people will be involved and we will be visiting homes to make parents understand this partnership," Dr Badri said.

To bring about such improvements, Dr Badri warned, there would also need to be a shift in the cultural mindset. "You cannot devote only five minutes of the day to your children," he said. "Parents should know everything about their academics."

aahmed@thenational.ae