x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

School lifts effort in teaching Arabic

The Jumeirah English Speaking School has implemented a program to make learning Arabic more interesting for its students.

DUBAI // When an image of a boy on a swing appears on the computer screen during an Arabic class, Sophie Reid confidently walks up to the board and says "Yakaf al walad alla al urjooha".

The eight-year-old student at the Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) was learning how to identify scenes from a circus after her teacher, Aliaa Baker, had created a presentation for a group game for the class. The recital, which meant "a boy standing on a swing", was an achievement for Sophie, who was taking Arabic as an additional language.

It would have not come easily a year ago. Ms Baker, an Egyptian, was hired recently as part of an effort to revamp the school's Arabic language instruction, which was found to be unsatisfactory by education authorities.

"We interviewed more than 60 teachers but hired only four who we thought could bring a spark to the lessons," said Tonya Berrington, the JESS Arabic coordinator.

"What we found was that the kids weren't particularly interested in the language and we are trying to change that attitude."

In the first round of inspections carried out by the Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) in 2008, the school achieved an 'Outstanding' grade, which was lowered last year because of low standards in teaching of the Arabic language.

The school did not offer a sufficiently challenging programme, which restricted student attainment and progress in the language according to the 2010 DSIB annual report by. The curriculum was not meeting the needs of first language Arabic speakers as well, the report stated.

The findings were a wake-up-call for the JESS management, which decided to set up an Arabic department and recruited a new team of teachers. Wael Mohammed, who heads the department, said students are now divided into classes depending on their ability.

"The programme is designed according to the pace of the child and we provide extra support to students who find it more difficult than the others," he said.

"The topics are not just classroom chapters as we relate them to the outside world so that they can speak and understand things when they go to the market, for example."

The changes are being noticed by parents. Maryanne Grogan, the mother of two students at JESS, said she has seen a improvement in her children's language skills.

"The other day when Iona came home she picked up a fruit and said 'Ma, this is a peach' in Arabic," she said. "I don't know what a peach is called in Arabic but I was quite happy because she is trying harder now."