Adec is pleased with progress made in closing the gap between school and university, but work remains to be done.
New School Model to get older Abu Dhabi pupils into shape
ABU DHABI // When term starts next week, all government school pupils up to the age of 10 will be taught under the New School Model.
And with that in place, officials are now turning their attention to the next phase of reform - the introduction next year of the model for older pupils.
Over the coming year, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) will assess its secondary schools, to decide whether to introduce the model just for the first year of secondary school - grade six - or for all four years, up to grade nine.
The New School Model is a response to universities' long-standing complaint that many students turn up ill-prepared to begin degree courses, which are taught in English.
This year, only 12 per cent of school-leavers were able to go straight on to degree courses, with the rest needed remedial lessons in English and other subjects first.
That is more than in previous years. "We raised it from three to five to seven to 10 to 12 per cent," said Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, director general of Adec. "This in itself is an achievement, [but] it is not enough, we must work harder and exert more efforts."
Started in 2010, the new school model has been introduced in stages - first to kindergarten classes, then to each successive year up to grade five this term.
It focuses on improving children's language skills, particularly English, by having Arabic and English language courses taught simultaneously by two teachers.
To do that, an army of new qualified teachers were hired, and existing ones received intensive training.
The model also focuses on developing pupils' critical thinking, rather than the rote learning of old, and places greater emphasis on continuous assessment rather than exams.
So far, said Dr Al Khaili it has been going well. "The NSM will continue and not change," he said.
The priority, he said, was to get the model into place as soon as possible. "We must change, and do so quickly, cycle two and three," he said. "We are working with the ministry to get rid of this gap [between school and university]."
He admitted the current secondary curriculum was not all "rosy", with pupils taking too many subjects. That needed to be trimmed back, he said.
"We teach a lot of courses. Internationally six to seven are major subjects, the rest are elective. For us all of them are compulsory - we need electives."
He also said teachers would concentrate on abandoning rote learning methods and move towards a more interactive style of teaching.
And there will be a bigger push for students to study subjects deemed necessary for Abu Dhabi's post-oil economy. That, said Dr Al Khaili, should inform schools' careers counselling, and universities' course offerings.
However, he admitted some teachers were still confused about what the New School Model meant for them.
That, he said, needed to be addressed by school managers.
"There needs to be more clarification on the NSM, some teachers have asked," he said. "I ask that principals be more available on the ground to explain."