x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Teachers begin retraining programme

A retraining programme for teachers will improve and standardise teaching practices in public schools, authorities say.

A boy writes during a class at Abu Dhabi's Mohamed bin Khaled School.
A boy writes during a class at Abu Dhabi's Mohamed bin Khaled School.

DUBAI// A retraining programme for teachers will improve and standardise teaching practices in public schools, authorities say, as the first teachers study the initial module this week. Some 2,500 teachers will complete an orientation session marking the start of a five-year professional development programme for public school teachers in the Northern Emirates. The programme, which will eventually train about 10,000 teachers from the Northern Emirates, is intended to address a variation in quality of teaching in schools and ensure all teachers are adequately trained.

A 2007 report by the consultancy firm McKinsey and Company found that high-quality teaching was the most important criteria in determining the top-performing school systems in the world. According to the report, "the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction". The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers, it added. It is with this in mind that the Ministry of Education has turned its attention to the issue of teacher training, one of many areas targeted for reform in the ministry's continuing attempt to improve what is widely seen to be a failing public school system.

The UAE ranks 77 out of 132 countries in education, according to statistics compiled by the World Bank for its Knowledge Economy Index despite its Dh7 billion (US$1.9bn) education budget. "Education is a pillar and cornerstone of [our] nation's development," said Dr Hanif Hassan, the Minister of Education, in an address to the programme participants. A new set of 10 uniform professional standards are at the centre of the Teachers for the 21st Century programme. Over several months, local and international education experts worked together to create standards that outline what teachers in today's schools must be able to do.

Six Ministry of Education committees identified the knowledge, skills and training gaps of teachers and supervisors working in the UAE's public schools. While most public school teachers have bachelor's degrees, many do not have degrees in teaching. "They give us a shared vision for what we all think teachers should know and be able to do," said Elizabeth Ross, an adviser in the professional development department at the Ministry of Education. "They will also provide us [with] a common language for the teacher profession here."

In the first year, the programme will focus on introducing three of 10 professional standards: understanding how pupils learn; creating classroom environments that support student learning; and using instructional practices that actively engage pupils. The Ministry has enlisted a number of medical doctors and international experts on education to participate in two, three-hour workshops on "brain-based learning" and the "art and science of teaching" during orientation sessions.

"We're going to set up an entire professional development system and collaborative network for them," said Ms Ross. "In addition to this orientation, they will have books and materials, but they will also have online training, professional development forums, they'll have collaborative networks." Teacher training will continue throughout the year and teachers will be expected to be able to demonstrate what they have learnt before they can move on to the next module.

"It will be performance-based," said Ms Ross. "So teachers will have to demonstrate what they have learnt with their students ? They would have to use the information they have gathered on how the brain learns, what does it mean in terms of the classroom environment, and actively engaging the student in the learning process, they would have to do a lesson using all of this knowledge in their classroom."

In the second year, teachers will receive training on the Ministry of Education's new "standards-based" curriculum - which is to replace the current curriculum which relies heavily on rote memorisation. The curriculum will radically change the way teachers are expected to work within the classroom. "What we want is sustained ongoing improvement," said Ms Ross, stressing the importance of continuous professional development. "It doesn't matter how good a teacher you are, we can have the best classrooms, the best technology, the best curriculum, and we could have come from a great school, but science and medicine are growing and advancing so rapidly as is technology, that we all need to update."

Ms Ross said that Abu Dhabi and Dubai were forming their own professional development programmes which will work in conjunction with the ministry. @Email:klewis@thenational.ae