x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Zayed University to increase options

The new dean plans to widen scope for Emirati teachers.

Dr Robin Dada, the new dean of Zayed University’s college of education, is eager to see new programmes this year.
Dr Robin Dada, the new dean of Zayed University’s college of education, is eager to see new programmes this year.

DUBAI // Zayed University's college of education is ramping up its operations this year in an effort to provide the specialised Emirati teachers that education authorities say they desperately need.

After a long approval process, new master's programmes will offer students more ways to specialise in the field, training staff who have few postgraduate options.

There is also a new dean this year. Last year the college, which trains many of the country's future Emirati teachers, lost its dean, Dr Peggy Blackwell, who had been in the role since 2004.

During that time, Dr Blackwell managed to consolidate what she says was a fragmented system that starved less popular courses such as maths and science of the funding they needed.

"It's a hard sell to encourage girls to go into maths and science," she said. "It's the same in the US."

The new dean, Dr Robin Dada, said financial issues - the budget has been frozen since 2004 - would inevitably mean higher fees for postgraduate courses, which could deter students.

Zayed University charges Dh84,000 for its postgraduate courses.

This, she says, is a challenge, as scholarships for its specialised teacher training courses, such as the master's in special education it plans to launch this year, are few and far between. "We've not increased tuition for a while, so possibly, that will go up in the future," she said.

During her tenure, Dr Blackwell developed master's degrees in areas that the Ministry of Education was keen to expand - such as special education and teaching and learning.

"They wanted these badly, for teachers to improve their knowledge of how students learn and their knowledge of up-to-date teaching methods," explained Dr Blackwell.

Dr Dada, formerly the head of graduate programmes, is delighted finally to be able to launch the new master's programmes, as she starts in the job.

She has other goals, such as getting the courses accredited by US bodies, such as the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, which would give them more international recognition and make it a more attractive proposition for potential students. "We're also looking to see how we can fit more and collaborate with the other colleges to strengthen the programmes we have," she said.

She also wants courses to become more field-based.

"Part of being a teacher is moving seamlessly," she said. "Even when you plan well, there are still those things that come only from experience and living it, where you develop the confidence where you're comfortable and more at ease in the classroom."

She is looking for partner schools to act as teaching schools on a model similar to teaching hospitals, where the students would be involved with a community of teachers and other students as early as possible.

Dr Blackwell said her successor is well versed in the needs of the college and has plenty of knowledge of local schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where the university's campuses are based.

However, it is the relationship between the two campuses that Dr Blackwell says must be re-evaluated as each struggles to carve an identity for itself.

In Al Ain, UAE University will also have in place a new dean at its college of education this year. Prof Steven Bossert is a former dean of education at Syracuse University in New York and at the University of California, Riverside.

Prof Rory Hume, the university's provost, said leadership of its education faculty was "a critical element of the future of education throughout the UAE, particularly ... when so many aspects of school education are being actively reconsidered and restructured both by the federal ministry and by individual emirates".

mswan@thenational.ae