Parents of Arab students say the Arabic curriculum has led to a loss of interest in the language.
Arab students find learning Arabic 'a burden'
DUBAI // Arab students find learning their mother tongue a burden, parents who feel the Arabic curriculum has led to a loss of interest in the language have said.
Private schools educating Arab students have to teach the language using books approved by the Ministry of Education.
Non-Arab students who take Arabic as an additional language can be taught through different programmes after the approval of the education authority, so what and how they learn differs from Arab pupils.
"I feel like they do not love the language and a lot of effort goes into teaching them Arabic at home," said Umm Shadha al Gergawi, an Emirati mother of two. "This is not the case with English or the additional languages they take. The [Arabic] curriculum is very restricted and it is difficult for them to comprehend the topics."
Students learning Arabic as a first language made good progress in developing their reading and listening skills in the lower grades but were lagging in writing and speaking, according to the 2010 annual report by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB).
Jameela al Muhairi, who heads the DSIB, said educators needed to make Arabic interesting through innovate teaching methods.
"They have to be creative and learn from peers who teach other subjects," she said.
However, those abilities declined in high school, where comprehension skills were limited to recollection of facts for most students, who also could not display creative and extended writing capabilities. The report also noted that students' use of Standard Arabic required improvement and oral skills that had to be developed.
As a result, many Arab parents have resorted to sending their children for private instruction outside the school system. Basel Shaban said he had hired a tutor who teaches his childrens at home.
"When we moved to Dubai from America we thought there would be an environment where they could speak in Arabic," said Mr Shaban, who is from Saudi Arabia. "The schools only fulfill certain criteria, so then we need to come in to drill the basics so that they can progress."
He said the school does not follow a differentiation approach and students of various abilities were learning the same thing.
"When they joined my kids were learning the alphabet but after three years they come not having learnt much beyond that," he said. "When kids find themselves doing the same thing and learning the same concepts they shut down and lose interest."
Noura Rashid, the mother of a pupil at the Mirdiff Private School, agreed that the curriculum was not what it could be and expressed concern that it was not sufficiently age-specific.
"For other languages you have books on grammar, vocabulary, phonetics to develop speaking, reading, writing and listening skills, but in Arabic the textbooks are not that diverse," she said. "It is also very hard to get such books in the market and I think the ministry must create more resources."
Parental disappointment with the ministry-approved language curriculum has led to a growing interest in courses offered at the Dar el ilm School of Languages because of the way Arabic is taught there, said Maha Jayyusi, the school's director of studies.
"We focus on communication and our method emphasises making learning easy, logical and fun," she said.
"The script and language are taught through games and practical activities. In class every student has to speak in Arabic."
Most parents prefer the added support because schools are restricted to teaching to ministry requirements which may not necessarily develop the necessary language skills, Ms Jayyusi said.
"The teachers are loading the children with information which they won't even use in their daily life, so they end up memorising it just to pass in an examination," she said.
The ministry is working to address the situation. Taaleem, a company that owns schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has been conducting professional development for teachers and investing in resources to raise the profile of the language. Dr Samia al Farra, Taaleem's chief education officer, believes the onus of teaching one's mother tongue does not fall on the school alone.
"The book is not the curriculum, it is just an instrument," she said. "The activities under the umbrella of the book is what constitutes the curriculum."
Dr al Farra said parents need to be educated on their role in education.
"When they bring home an Arabic newspaper or stories to read to their children, they are actually contributing to the whole picture of the curriculum," she said.