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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

'Boring' Arabic language teaching in schools to get digital makeover

Old-fashioned teaching methods have until now been driving children away from learning Arabic, says expert

School pupils will be learning Arabic from new digital platform bilArabi, which helps them apply the language to everyday life, in a bid to revive interest in the language. Subhash Sharma / The National
School pupils will be learning Arabic from new digital platform bilArabi, which helps them apply the language to everyday life, in a bid to revive interest in the language. Subhash Sharma / The National

Private schools are to roll out a new Arabic digital teaching programme to help pupils use aspects of the language in every day life.

Using mobile apps, pupils will be taught common words in a range of topics, including food, sports and exercise.

Global education company Pearson will launch bilArabi in UK and US curriculum schools for pupils from Year One to Year Three this September.

Head teachers said the change in teaching methods would revive interest in learning the language as too often mandatory Arabic classes in schools focus on "boring" texts and a "50-year-old" teaching methodology.

"If you modernise the way Arabic is taught, you inject energy into it," said Dr Hanada Taha Thomure, senior author at bilArabi and an education expert.

“Arabic teachers are not well trained or prepared and they don’t have enough resources to help pupils learn and enjoy the learning process.

"In private schools, pupil's exposure to Arabic is limited and they don’t get immersed in the language.

“This programme will help as it will modernise the teaching of Arabic," she said.

bilArabi combines textbooks, mobile applications and a digital platform to teach Arabic to native speakers and new learners.

The programme introduces pupils to characters that are meant to reflect those found in the UAE classroom where there are children of various nationalities and some with special needs.

Pupils will use the Arabic language to talk about things like how to live a healthy life, how to engage in sports, the importance of helping others, how to be responsible and helping your parents.

Schools can choose whether they adopt the programme for use within school hours or as an extra-curricular activity.

A 2016 Unesco study found that while schoolchildren globally are able to read full-page stories by the end-of-year One, pupils in Gulf countries are only able to read single sentences in Arabic.

And by Year Four, global standards say children can read 800-1,000 words but Gulf pupils are only able to read Arabic texts of between 200 and 300 words.

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UAE Arabic teachers say they lack the proper resources to teach the language and schools say they have trouble finding teachers who can engage children in the subject.

"You might find qualified teachers but they are not qualified to teach the most updated lessons. They teach in a boring way and this drives pupils away from Arabic," said Rufaidah Al Hajji, head of Arabic and Islamic studies at BEAM, a school developer which has five schools in UAE.

"Even if you train the teacher, they have to create ether own tools to make the class interesting because the technology in Arabic is limited.

"bilArabi will be an interesting educational resource."

Ashleigh Thompson is deputy head teacher at Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba where bilArabi has been piloted.

"bilArabi is interactive and reaches out to different groups of children because they can relate to the content. There are examples they can relate to their own lives," said, Ms Thompson.

"Because most people speak English, pupils do not see the value in learning Arabic. Children say they don’t like Arabic classes in general because of the traditional methods currently used.

Updated: January 22, 2019 10:55 AM

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