x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Head teachers air grievances with Education Minister

Discussion in Dubai includes concerns about curriculum, while the need for better dialogue between ministry and schools is highlighted.

Dubai // Hundreds of principals and directors from public schools in Dubai voiced their frustrations to education ministry officials yesterday over issues they believe have been unresolved for years.

During the debate, organised by the Ministry of Education, there was obvious concern over challenges facing the education sector including staff shortages, curriculum and fair promotions.

Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, the Minister of Education, responded to questions by calling for a new phase of unified, structured and transparent communication between schools and the ministry.

"Problems arise when things are unclear," Mr al Qattami said, "so it is important to build a strong foundation that leads to a stronger workforce."

This, he explained, required a clear distribution of responsibilities at all levels of education, thus leading to management efficiency and teamwork.

The ministry, he said, was researching ways to raise the percentage of graduates from public schools. The process involved delving into the details of developing the curriculum, assessment tools, examinations, school environments and implementing development programmes for both school principals and teachers.

"Schools are the essence of society. And, like any other sector, we must accommodate changes - in the management process, new technology and so on," Mr al Qattami said.

Some teachers said that while they had held the position of principal for years, the transition had yet to be officially acknowledged. There was also a general agreement on the shortage of qualified teachers. Some principals said they had gone to the extent of cancelling classes because substitute teachers were so few and far between.

The lack of available substitutes was especially noticeable in Physical Education, principals said, something they said should not be overlooked because the health of the children was of paramount importance.

Huda Shiban, the principal of Al Mizhar Primary School, said there was also the critical problem of overcrowded classrooms.

"Firstly, it's a good step that the minister is calling for better communication, and I hope for more meetings so we can work together effectively and speak openly," said Mrs Shiban. "On average, our teachers have 24 classes per week with at least 30 students in each. We need smaller classes so teachers can invest more time with each student."

Mrs Shiban said the solution was not as simple as splitting the classes. "We'll need more teachers and a budget for it. But it's important to divide classes to allow creative teaching and [so that] students will be engaged in new learning activities," she said.

The Ministry of Education is restructuring curriculums, and new school books are to be introduced this year. "Some of the books have been the same for too many years even though education, students, teachers and administration have developed," said Mrs Shiban.

Mona Ali al Mulla, the manager of Al Aweer Primary School, agreed that changing some textbooks would move things forward. "We'll see good changes in subjects like mathematics, science and art," she said.

Like many, Mrs al Mulla hopes the ministry will act on its promise of better dialogue.

"We would like more discussions with each department of the ministry. This is what will create stronger teamwork and success," she said.

The Dubai Police Chief, Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, was also present at the session. He called for developing the curriculum towards better teaching of Arabic. He also said ways of gaining and maintaining the interest of students should be investigated.

Mr al Qattami also promised solutions to further queries such as the school calendar, sick leave, promotions and sudden staff resignation in the middle of the school year.