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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

UAE schools should be up with the world’s best

Teachers and administrators at conference told of education ministry’s seven-year plan to put country’s schools in the world’s top-20.
Dr Abdullatif Al Shamsi, managing director at the Institute of Applied Technology, addresses the Conference on Education in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Dr Abdullatif Al Shamsi, managing director at the Institute of Applied Technology, addresses the Conference on Education in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // A plan to put the UAE among the top 20 countries in the world for education by radically improving the school system was unveiled on Thursday.

More than 1,000 teachers and administrators were at the fourth education conference in Dubai to hear the Ministry of Education announce its goals for 2021.

Marwan Al Suwaleh, the ministry’s undersecretary, said the UAE was ranked 46th out of 65 countries assessed in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2012, which evaluated 15-year-olds in maths, reading, and science.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) placed the UAE 23rd out of 42 countries, while, according to the UAE National Assessment Programme, public school pupils average a 58 per cent pass rate in Arabic.

“If this is a figure that you are satisfied with, let me tell you that we are not. Our aim is to raise that to 90 per cent by 2021,” Mr Al Suwaleh said. “Currently we have no assessment of the number of high quality teachers in our school, but that has to be at 100 per cent by 2021. As for schools with high quality administrators, we are at 33 per cent and must also reach 100 per cent by 2021.”

In public schools, 83 per cent of students in fourth grade maths and reading were evaluated as being below satisfactory levels, with science at 79 per cent. In eighth grade maths and science these figures were 75 per cent and 71 per cent respectively – below satisfactory levels.

Mr Al Suwaleh added that this year, students will undergo four tests; Timss 4 and 8, Pisa and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. New curriculums have been linked to the requirements of these tests and will be released later this month.

“We must motivate students and provide incentives to achieve higher grades,” said the undersecretary. “These are international standards, if we give them the responsibility and show that with these tests he is raising the name of his country, believe me these results will change.”

The ministry also plans to phase out the foundation year at university by improving education levels at schools.

Integration of technologies was another important point made at the conference.

Speakers stressed the need for continued efforts to develop the education system to be more fun and creative to attract the “iPad Generation” and get them excited about learning.

“There is no doubt that there is a big gap between the teachers’ generation and the kids’ generation, which I refer to as the iPad generation,” said Dr Abdullatif Mohammed Al Shamsi, managing director at the Institute of Applied Technology.

“The digital world for children is more native, while for teachers we are immigrants to this world. The gap will always remain, for the kids it is natural, it is intuitive, for us it’s an effort to make it happen.

“The main goal is that this is the only way to attract students to become better learners, this is the only way that we can excite students about learning. If we use the traditional way of teaching we are going to lose this generation,” he said.

“Our subjects, especially when it comes to science and maths and these areas, are rigid by nature. Using the iLearning approach is a must, there is no longer a choice for us. And this is a global trend – not just here in the UAE,” said Dr Al Shamsi.

“There is great challenges of course, especially in areas where we are still exploring, with a technology that is rapidly changing.”

Asked if it is realistic to achieve this integration in the next five to six years, Dr Al Shamsi said: “It is very realistic, but we have to pioneer it, we can’t wait for others so we can follow in their footsteps.”

Some of those in attendance, however, were not convinced by the ministry’s strategy.

“I think it’s a great plan, but that said, I don’t think we have the necessary tools right now tackle this plan,” said Ms Zubaidah Ismail, a school supervisor. “I have no doubt that we can do it if the tools will be provided.”

Mohammed Hassan Mohammed, special adviser at Dubai Educational Zone, said the ministry “made some great points in the strategy”.

“However, we have to have the human and financial resources to achieve these goals. So let us first provide the resources and the strategies.

“There is no point in discussing all this when our schools lack teachers, lack qualifications, and we don’t have the tools to motivate our students.”

malkhan@thenational.ae