The Abu Dhabi Education Council says all pupils in state high schools will be taught maths and science in English by 2012.
Maths and science to be taught in English
ABU DHABI // All pupils in state high schools will be taught maths and science in English by 2012, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) said yesterday. At the launch of its 10-year strategic plan, Adec said it aimed to see pupils graduating with equal proficiency in English and Arabic. In a concerted effort to turn out better qualified school-leavers, from this August the school day will also be extended by 90 minutes in all state high schools in the emirate. Pupils in all Abu Dhabi's state schools will study for 10 extra days a year.
It follows the publication of results showing that only 13 per cent of applicants to federal universities scored enough in their English exams to bypass remedial courses. Dr Mugheer al Khaili, the director general of Adec, said: "We want to have bilingual students, which still means that we must preserve our culture and religion and maintain the importance of the Arabic language. "But we also need to concentrate on English ... It is the international language of instruction, the language of science, business and technology."
The English-taught lessons will begin for some pupils as soon as the start of the new school year, on August 30. However, the demands of recruiting and training a cadre of English-proficient teachers to teach all maths and science lessons across grades 10, 11 and 12 mean the change will not be fully implemented until 2012. Currently, even many teachers of English do not excel in the language. Adec said less than 10 per cent of the tested English teachers across all state schools in Abu Dhabi met the minimum standards of English proficiency.
Dr al Khaili said that as well as training existing teachers, the council would be hiring others who were native English speakers. Of the change in hours, Dr al Khaili said a seven- to eight-hour school day was the international norm. "In Abu Dhabi, we teach from four to five hours a day," he said. "Plus our academic year is usually less. "We need to work on students' discipline and improve their levels. Exams are too traditional and focus on memorisation instead of understanding and applying.
"This is not what we want; we do not want our students to be left behind. We have to prepare our students and have them ready to pursue higher education opportunities. "The real problem, which we've spoken about before, is that for the past 15 years, 90 per cent of our students cannot get into UAE universities without foundation years to improve their English, which is eating into 30 per cent of the budget of higher education institutions.
"These students cannot be allowed to waste two years of their lives like this." Although the budget for the 10-year plan was not disclosed, Dr al Khaili said education was "Abu Dhabi's top priority". There are 121,145 students in the emirate's 301 state schools, but only 16 per cent of grade-seven students are performing at the level expected of them in English reading. In maths, only 10 per cent are performing at the expected level, and in science, only three per cent.
Dr al Khaili stressed the importance of making education affordable and attainable to everyone in Abu Dhabi, regardless of nationality, background or religion. However, he promised to make good on the Government's promise to close all villa schools within three years. "Because of people's difficult finances, villa schools were created," he said. "Villas made for a family began housing 200 students who sometimes all use the same bathroom.
"This cannot be allowed to continue and will be taken care of over the next three years." Head teachers have in the past expressed concern about the potential loss of Arab identity as a result of increased English-language tuition, saying that pupils' skills in Arabic would be undermined. Dr al Khaili, however, insisted that English on its own was not the focus. "We want well-rounded students, who participate, who have developed personalities and analytical skills, and who are proficient in both English and Arabic. Bilingualism is our aim."
Mohammed Maen, a maths teacher at Al Mutanabi school in Abu Dhabi, said that while he supported the aim of bilingualism, it could not be achieved with the current teaching staff. "I teach mathematics in Arabic, not in English," he said. "I will not be able to explain theories and concepts and ideas to the students as well in English as I will in Arabic, which will mean they will not get the highest level of teaching standard that is their right.
"This has to be addressed. Are we teachers going to be made redundant, then?" Sheikh al Zaabneh, principal at the Palestine School for Girls' Secondary Education, said Adec was on the right path. "There is no question that our approach to education has to improve, and that our students have to be made to be more prepared for getting into university," she said. "If this means a longer school day and more specific classes, that are taught with more qualified teachers, then this is for their benefit. Students come first."
Some students, however, expressed trepidation. Nada al Hashimi, who will be starting grade 10 at Al Mawahib school in August, said she was dismayed to hear of the changes. "My English is not that good," she said. "How will I do well in difficult subjects like maths and science if they are taught in English? I am afraid my average will go down."