x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Education reform plan thrown open for comment

Principals and parents are asked for feedback on a plan to change radically education in Abu Dhabi.

An empty classroom at Al Jemaiyah School. This school was closed in June, along with several other schools in the region.
An empty classroom at Al Jemaiyah School. This school was closed in June, along with several other schools in the region.

Principals and parents have been asked for comments on a plan to change radically education in Abu Dhabi. Highlights from a draft of the strategic plan were released yesterday by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) in a meeting with local principals. The plan is intended to solve problems in the state school system by offering additional training to underqualified teachers and principals, providing the schools with enough money and increasing the number of days in the school year. Schools will recruit highly qualified instructors and develop a teacher-certification system. "There are many changes. Some have started and some are yet to come," said Dr Pauline Greaves, the head of Adec's professional development department. "The achievement of students is at the focus of everything that we look at and that we are planning." Adec plans to develop a centre for professional development that would offer courses to working teachers and establish partnerships with universities to provide teacher-education programmes. It would also establish a "school office" to provide administrative services, and a centre for curriculum development. The initiatives are due to be in place by 2010. After that, Adec intends to introduce further changes, including standardised examinations. The plan was developed by Adec senior management with the assistance of consulting firms McKinsey and Booz Allen Hamilton. Adec studied high-performing school systems elsewhere in the world, and sought input from parents, teachers and principals in Abu Dhabi. "We did our own internal analysis and when we brought all of these experts from outside, they told us a lot of things should be reformed," said Dr Mugheer Khamis al Khaili, the director general of Adec. Members of the team that worked on the strategic plan travelled to other countries to study their experiences with education reform, positive and negative. "I am very interested in what went wrong in these countries," Dr Khaili said. "If we know what went wrong we can design something to overcome the shortcomings of such plans." School principals, the heads of Abu Dhabi government departments and parents were asked to comment on the plan before it is submitted to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who also is chairman of the emirate's Executive Council. "You have to use your own people," Dr Khaili said. "We can always use the expertise of others but you cannot put your own indigenous people aside." On Sunday, highlights from the plan will be posted on Adec's website. Adec officials want the plan to be made final by the end of the month. A major part of Adec's strategy was to improve the skills of principals already in the state school system. A new programme, which was also announced yesterday, will train an estimated 750 principals and vice principals in the emirate. It is a partnership between Adec and DET International, a division of the New South Wales Department of Education and Training in Australia. Adec's school-leadership programme is in line with new federal requirements for principals. Most principals have been promoted through the ranks after starting as classroom teachers, and few hold the degrees now required. A set of national standards for principals was announced in July by the Minister of Education, Dr Hanif Hassan, requiring that newly hired principals hold bachelor's degrees in education and had earned "outstanding" grades on their last performance evaluations. Principals already working in the system are to be certified after taking a 14-month leadership training programme through a Ministry of Education partnership with Zayed University. Abu Dhabi has taken a slightly different approach. On Sunday a group of consultants from DET International will begin visits to every school in the emirate, to conduct interviews and evaluate every principal in Abu Dhabi over the next six weeks. "To be a great leader, one must know one's strengths and one's weaknesses, and work to make the weaknesses into strengths by enhancing our skills, strengthening our knowledge," Dr Greaves said. "By reflecting on our practices, we build both strength and success." Adec will work on a professional development plan for each principal after it receives the results of the survey. The goal is to develop a principal qualification certificate. "You are the pillars and the drivers of change," Dr Greaves told the principals yesterday. "If we want success we have to really move together and develop and sustain the leadership." klewis@thenational.com