x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Teachers face tests to address failings

Ten thousand teachers undergoing retraining will have to prove their proficiency in 10 key areas.

Reform of the failing public school system has been of paramount concern for most of this decade, but various plans to reinvent education since 2000 have not had measurable results.
Reform of the failing public school system has been of paramount concern for most of this decade, but various plans to reinvent education since 2000 have not had measurable results.

ABU DHABI // Ten thousand teachers undergoing retraining will be required to prove their proficiency in 10 key areas, ranging from creating dynamic classroom environments to understanding how to conduct continuous assessments of their charges, The National has learnt. The Ministry of Education is working to implement the first set of nationwide professional standards for public school teachers and regulate teaching practices. The standards will apply to every teacher in UAE public schools, including those working in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The process has begun with the retraining of 10,000 teachers in the northern Emirates to address deficiencies in curriculum, lesson planning and student assessment. Reform of the failing public school system has been of paramount concern for most of this decade, but various plans to reinvent education since 2000 have not had measurable results. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, recently called for an overhaul of the state school system on "every level". The federal budget for education - Dh9.7 billion (US$2.6bn) for next year - represents about 23 per cent of Government spending.

Studies commissioned by the Education Ministry in 2001 and 2005 showed that only 44 per cent of UAE teachers had university degrees in education. In Singapore, 80 per cent of teachers have such degrees; in Japan the figure is 97 per cent. Some teachers in UAE public schools have no university degrees at all. And, according to the 2001 and 2005 studies, most new teachers entering the system had, on average, just two weeks of training.

A study last year by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company concluded that high-quality teachers are the most important indicator of a school system's excellence. Looking at 25 different examples - including what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development tests indicate are the 10 highest-performing school systems - the study determined that the three most important factors in school quality were getting the right people to become teachers, developing them into effective instructors and ensuring that the system can deliver the best possible instruction for every child. "The more on-task teachers are, the more chance there will be for students to improve their performance," said Elizabeth Ross, an adviser in the professional development department at the Ministry of Education. "The higher-quality teacher performance, the higher achievement of students in the classroom - there is a direct correlation between the two." The Ministry of Education has identified teaching practice as one of its top priorities for improvement, alongside its plans to replace the outmoded school curriculum with a new, student-centred learning model and to restore and rebuild ageing school facilities. The new standards will "give us a common language and a shared vision for the teaching profession", Ms Ross said. The changes are a part of a larger ministry plan announced in August to improve teacher qualifications. New teachers entering the system will eventually be required to be licensed and certified. An estimated 2,500 public school teachers completed an orientation session on the new standards last week. In the first year, teachers will cover three standards: understanding how pupils learn, creating classroom environments that support student learning and using instructional practices that actively engage pupils. The initiative is led by Nabeela Ali al Mirza, director of the professional development department at the ministry. Perhaps the most important of the new standards involves understanding how children learn. "When we actively engage the student, we develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills," Ms Ross said. Teachers will be required to demonstrate proficiency before they are allowed to move on to the next module. According to a ministry official, teachers will have to conduct sample lessons to demonstrate what they have learnt. In the second year, teachers will be trained on the ministry's new "standards-based" curriculum, which will radically change teaching practice. The current curriculum relies heavily on rote memorisation. The other standards demand that teachers be proficient on up-to-date learning technology, that they are able to assess student work continually, that they can effectively communicate with pupils, colleagues and parents; that they are effective leaders; that they understand the new code of conduct; and that they continually engage in professional development. klewis@thenational.ae