The troubled adult education sector could benefit from an online learning approach, experts say as many blame poor standard of teaching and a clash between education and working hours.
Thousands in adult education in UAE let down by teaching standards
DUBAI // Mature students are not getting the help or education they need to complete their studies in state adult-learning centres.
As a result they perform poorly in their final exams and many drop out - 30 per cent, one study in 2010 found, and more than half according to another study in the same year.
In the latter study, conducted by Al Hosn University researcher Thuraya Al Salmi, 42 per cent said they dropped out because of social problems and 30 per cent for financial reasons.
Some blamed family responsibilities, a negative learning environment and, because many of the students are employed, office hours.
At least 8,580 Emirati and Arab expatriate students attend government adult-education centres in Dubai and Northern Emirates.
Among them are teenage pupils who have failed the same grade twice and been asked to leave school, young adults who dropped out of school early but want to return, and older people who missed out on education.
Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, surveyed about 100 men who had dropped out of school but are now enrolled in adult centres.
"They sign up but then receive very little help to succeed," Dr Ridge said. "They say adult education is worse than school. The teachers were not interested and the students felt they were on their own."
"We are aware of the issues and are in the process of addressing them," said Mohammed Al Khameeri, specialised schools management director at the Ministry of Education.
The ministry does not have recent attendance figures but teachers say the situation has not changed since the 2010 surveys.
Sumaya Al Suwaidi, director of the Ras Al Khaimah Education Zone, said teacher quality was poor. "The problem is the salary they receive. It is so little that we cannot find quality teachers for the centres."
A teacher at an adult learning centre may take up to 10 classes a week and is paid no more than Dh30 a class.
Ms Al Suwaidi said a lot of the teachers worked at regular schools during the day and taught at the centres for overtime pay. Others did so on a semi-volunteer basis.
Mohammed, a teacher at an adult centre in Dubai, said the problem was a lack of practical lessons.
"They come back because they want a certificate as they could not find a job without one," he said. "But they also want to go back and be able to utilise their education in their area of work."
Kathleen King, who chairs the department of adult, career and higher education at the University of South Florida's College of Education and has written several papers on blended learning, technology and adult education, said: "The curriculum for adult learners must involve real-life examples. So if you are teaching maths: how do you design a dress using fractions? The application of content makes it more interesting."
Saad, a supervisor at an adult-education centre, said the learning centres were a dismal setting for education.
"The building is falling apart, there are no resources and equipment, and teachers are poorly paid," he said. "If you want to educate people, you have to create an encouraging environment to learn."
One of the suggestions has been to incorporate online modules.
Abdul Rahim, a manager in the ministry's specialised schools department, said they were aiming to start online learning next year to shake up the system.
"We are looking at countries like Australia and South Africa that have tried such models," said Mr Rahim.
Ms King said she recommended a blended-learning approach, which would keep students accountable and provide them with necessary social interaction.
And it cannot be assumed that students understand the educational use of technology, she warned.
"There has to be an orientation that introduces technology skills for lifelong learning, and that holds for all age groups," Ms King said.