x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Education experts highlight ways to improve Arabic language standards at UAE schools

The Government is keen for standards in Arabic to improve but recent inspection reports have shown that progress on the issue is slow and in some cases getting worse.

Pupils at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi learn Arabic from flash cards. Andrew Henderson / The National
Pupils at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi learn Arabic from flash cards. Andrew Henderson / The National

DUBAI // Updated curriculum textbooks, daily lessons and better-trained teachers are among the measures education experts say are needed to improve the standard of Arabic taught in schools.

The Government is keen for standards to improve, but recent inspection reports showed that progress on the issue was slow – and in some cases non-existent.

Mona Methini, head of languages at Scholars International Academy School in Sharjah, said Arabic textbooks were not engaging enough for most pupils. “We should start by updating these books because they are not really relevant to pupils now,” she said.

“You have pupils exploring interesting issues in other subjects and then they come into Arabic lessons and the books are childish and have no relevance to their lives.”

She called for an update to the curriculum with more of a focus on developing creativity.

“When you are dealing with a child who is learning Arabic as a second or third language it’s vital that the student is engaged in a fun way.

“The UAE has so many nationalities and you rarely hear people speak in Arabic, even among Arabs, so in reality children get very little exposure to the language.”

One way to solve this problem, she said, was to focus initially on conversational Arabic rather than punctuation and grammar.

“The whole point of learning a language is to be able to communicate with other people,” she said. “Once students learn enough to allow them to talk in Arabic they will become more invested in continuing to learn and we can then teach them about the grammar.”

Although Ms Methini was speaking primarily about pupils learning Arabic as a second language, much could be applied to native speakers, she said.

Last week’s School Inspections Key Findings 2015-2016 report published by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority revealed significant improvements in the overall standard of education in Indian schools.

However, attainment of Arabic showed a decline from 13 per cent in 2009-2010 to 7 per cent in 2015-2016.

Dr Pauline Owayjan, director of the Arabic curriculum at the American International School in Abu Dhabi , believed the difference between colloquial Arabic and the classical Arabic taught in classrooms was a major issue for many pupils.

“What students are taught in class is classical Arabic but in everyday interactions the vast majority Arabs speak in different dialects, which can add to the confusion,” she said.

Although there was a determination among some schools to improve standards many devote only the minimum amount of time to the subject.

“A child in an international school will be exposed to English not just during language lessons but in other subjects, as well as in the media and day-to-day conversations,” she said.

She said exposing pupils to the language with daily Arabic lessons in school would help, but Arab parents also needed to do more to make it something their child wanted to learn.

“Unfortunately, there is a mentality among some parents that they don’t want to speak in Arabic because it’s more sophisticated to talk in French or another language,” she said.

A spokesman for Taaleem, an education provider that runs 11 schools in the UAE, said there was an “acute” shortage of qualified teachers who were willing drop traditional methods for more inquiry and critical thinking based learning.

“There is also a dearth of engaging and age appropriate literature, text books and educational resources,” he said.

nhanif@thenational.ae

* This story has been amended since it was first published.