x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emirati students hindered by lack of Arabic

Dubai Women's College is pioneering an Arabic language programme that will help its student master their native language.

The centre's manager, Dr Hanan Hairab, says it will serve several disciplines, from business skills to health science.
The centre's manager, Dr Hanan Hairab, says it will serve several disciplines, from business skills to health science.

Dubai Women's College, part of the 17 federal Higher Colleges of Technology, is pioneering an Arabic language project to help improve the skills of Emirati students and make them more passionate about their native tongue.

Sumaya Hamood, a first-year business student, said she needs to improve her classical Arabic because there is so much focus placed on English, the medium of teaching in the UAE's colleges and universities.

She is one of hundreds of students who will benefit from a dedicated centre at the campus which will run events, courses and workshops as well as organising projects to engage students and show Arabic films.

"The centre will be good for all of us," Ms Hamood, 19, said. "The environment here has changed so much. Everything is in English so it's useful for us to have this here."

She has been so immersed in improving her English that she even tweets in the second language.

Fatima Al Hamidh, 20, is a health science student specialising in pharmacy. She says communicating with patients in Arabic, who make up the majority, is challenging because she only knows the terminology in English.

"In the college there is so much emphasis on English, but we need to work on our Arabic," she said. "We need to be able to explain the medicines and how and why and when to take them."

It is this kind of curriculum work the centre will be involved in. The centre's manager, Dr Hanan Hairab, said it will serve several disciplines, from business skills to health science, though it has already been pioneered for media and communication students.

"Having strong bilingual graduates is one of our biggest aims," Dr Hairab said. "Our students learn everything in English so integrating Arabic into the curriculum is the only way to enhance this."

Dr Howard Reed, the Dubai men and women's colleges' director, said: "The students need better Arabic reading and writing skills."

While employers rate highly the employability of Dubai Women's College graduates, their native language lets them down.

"As native speakers, employers would expect them to have these skills but they tell us they don't do these very well," Dr Reed said.

Rather than offering traditional courses, Dr Reed said the only way to engage the students is through activities, drawing interest in issues and topics rather than offering courses that might be perceived as boring and unnecessary. "We need to make kids excited about Arabic."

It is only through the support of the initiative announced earlier this year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to enhance Arabic instruction that the institute has been able to adapt the curriculum which must be taught in English.

The focus of the initiative is nurturing the language in order to uphold the Emirati national identity for future generations.

Until three years ago, there was an element of Arabic in the remedial or foundation education programme which 90 per cent of Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) students take before beginning their degrees. This changed when the focus was for subjects more critical to the students' degrees such as English, internet technology and maths.

Resources will be on hand in the centre to teach students more about their own culture, from poetry to stories.

Sharifa Al Aslai is in her final year as an education student and has written books for the centre that focus on local culture.

In the Government schools where she works, she sees a lack of engagement with the language.

"We are trying to give them more practice in reading and writing," she said, observing that traditional teaching styles are not engaging the pupils. "We're trying to get them to a higher level using different methods. We're doing activities to get the children interested and interacting. You need to relate it to something they like."

The men's college will be more involved with the centre's activities and in time, Dr Hairab hopes other HCT colleges may follow suit.

"All the campuses have some kind of Arabic component but in different ways. I hope one day we will have one system. I want to get the students' attention and make this fun and useful."

mswan@thenational.ae