x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Not enough teachers or textbooks in northern emirates

School administrators said there was a shortage of 800 teachers this year, and that they had to put alternative measures in place to overcome the shortfall.

DUBAI //In addition to the introduction of a three-term academic calendar and a new model for assessing pupils, some public schools have dealt with a shortage of books and teachers this year, some head teachers have complained.

Since the new school year in September, the shortage of teachers and textbooks presented the biggest problem, and had mainly affected government schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

While the Ministry of Education (MoE) downplayed the problem, school administrators said there was a shortage of 800 teachers this year, and that they had to put alternative measures in place to overcome the shortfall.

Administrators reported short-staffed classrooms and several schools were still waiting for textbooks two weeks into the first term.

Al Raya School girls school in Al Wasl, Dubai faced a teacher shortage - especially English-language teachers - and the enrolment of 130 new students has put more pressure on the already small team.

"Some of our teachers left as well, so we needed at least seven new teachers," said Nehad Ali al Zeer, the principal of the school.

"We had to manage with our co-ordinators who stepped in to teach, and had to merge some of the classes as well," Ms al Zeer said.

A similar situation was reported by a principal in Ras al Khaimah, who said the ministry should plan in advance so they could avoid spending the first term ironing out issues.

"We had to take the assistance of teachers at a private school in the area," said the head of a boys school who did not wish to be named.

Sheikha al Shamsi, the deputy executive director for education affairs at the ministry, said the shortage at schools this year was an anomaly and the authority was working to solve the matter.

"Next year, we will learn from what went wrong this time and put better measures in place," said Ms al Shamsi. "There was no shortage of books; the problem arose in the distribution policy, which we will be revisiting as well."

Among changes adopted in public schools was a three-term academic calendar in place of the two-semester year. "The second semester was proving to be too long," said Ms al Shamsi. "It was best to divide the year further so that students and teachers don't burn out."

In Sharjah and Ajman, where education officials are intent on improving the English-language skills of students, one of the reasons given for low performance levels in this area was a lack of adequate training for teachers.

At the beginning of the term, the Sharjah Education Zone partnered with the Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology to conduct workshops for high school English teachers, and to introduce them to modern teaching methods.

Across the board, the ministry did away with old methods of assessing academic performance, and introduced the continuous assessment system. Under continuous assessment, students earn grades throughout the year for assignments and projects, and these account for a percentage of their end-of-year grade. As a result, the end-of-year exam now only accounts for 20 per cent of the final mark.

The new evaluation system has received an equal measure of bouquets and brickbats.

Mona Naseer, whose children attend Umm al Qaiwain School, said the new system had its pros and cons.

"The continuous tests are better, because the children have no time to forget what they are being taught, and the final examinations are shorter," she said.

But, while Ms Nasser said she believed projects were necessary, she said an increase in workload did not leave time for sports.

In the lower grades, principals said, the model had eased pressure on kids. "Young children panic when they have to study for one final exam," said Mona al Jazairi, the principal of Ahmed bin Majid elementary school in Ras al Khaimah.

"With these short tests and regular activities they are more enthusiastic and take the time to understand. We hope to see this translate into better grades," she said.