x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Nursery teachers to graduate after completing training

More than 40 women to finish training ordered by ministry after national survey found 85% of early-education workers had no qualifications.

"Some of the techniques we actually tried the day we went back and it really worked," says a nursery worker.

DUBAI // Daily they face the important task of placing tiny feet - controlled by all-too-readily distracted minds - on their first steps towards formal education.

Yet a national survey recently showed 85 per cent of nursery teachers had no educational qualifications for the job.

Now, more than 40 women are set to graduate from a programme that has allowed them to chalk up the 30 hours of professional development a year ordered by the Ministry of Social Affairs after the survey results were released.

"Some of the techniques we actually tried the day we went back and it really worked," said Fehmida Azfar, 32, from Pakistan, an administrator at Pristine Rainbow Nursery in Dubai.

The workers have done the five-week programme of weekend classes, which included training in child development, identifying and reporting child abuse, learning through play and special needs.

Arabian Child, the consultancy that conducted the survey, created several courses approved by the ministry, including the one that finishes on Saturday.

"Getting the knowledge is just part of it," said Samia Kazi, chief operating officer of Arabian Child.

Ms Kazi said the course encouraged the nursery workers to "think about and reflect on their teaching", and allowed staff from different nurseries to trade ideas.

About 40 women began the training last month in English. Six took a similar programme in Arabic.

Twelve hours of the course were devoted to recognising and informing the authorities of child abuse.

"This topic, no one has touched it before," said Ms Azfar. "We are more aware of this issue and we can take action."

The trainer Sanjana Bhardwaj used last weekend's session to discuss the UAE's draft child-rights law, which is awaiting approval.

The law would make it mandatory for doctors, teachers and others who work with children to report cases of suspected abuse or neglect.

"When you see parents dropping off their children and hitting them, or a child left in a car, don't wait too long for the harm to occur," Ms Bhardwaj told the women. "You have to act at the risk of harm."

She asked the participants if any of their nurseries had developed child-protection policies. None had.

"After the training, maybe this is something you want to tell your administrators or managers," said Ms Bhardwaj, an instructor at Zayed University. "Even if there is no law, they can still have a child-protection policy."

Later, Patricia Mezu spoke on observing and assessing children's academic and social progress.

The nursery survey found many staff had years of practical experience but lacked formal training.

One worker, Jabeen Hasan, studied computer science but has worked for almost 14 years in Pakistani and UAE nurseries.

"I love children," said Ms Hasan, 35, who teaches two-year-olds in Dubai. "It's a typical answer but what can I say?"

Ms Bhardwaj said the biggest challenge for trainers was dealing with educators with so many different backgrounds.

"A lot of them don't even have undergraduate degrees," she said.

The course will resume this month for a new group of participants.

Some nursery directors have grumbled about the requirement.

"I have many complaints from nurseries," said Moza Al Shoomi, head of the child department at the Ministry of Social Affairs. "'Why this training?' They are not looking at what we are looking for."

But resistance has melted away among workers, Ms Kazi said.

"I'm very glad that they decided to start this, the Ministry of Social Affairs, because some people didn't get a chance to get training or they have different backgrounds," said participant Eqlima Dinar, 26.

Rakhi Khosla, 35, from the UK, a nursery teacher for 11 years, was not sure what to expect.

"I was like, why are we doing this?" said Ms Khosla, who teaches at Lollipop Nursery in Sharjah.

By week four, she was hooked: "I would love to do more as well. You learn, every day, something new."

vnereim@thenational.ae