x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fresh outlook for UAE trainee teachers

Rote learning in public schools is a thing of the past. At the Emirates College for Advanced Education, growing numbers of aspirant Emirati teachers are being taught to promote critical thinking and child-centred learning when they graduate.

Trainee teachers during a recent in-class presentation exercise at Emirates College for Advanced Education in Abu Dhabi. Photos Delores Johnson / The National
Trainee teachers during a recent in-class presentation exercise at Emirates College for Advanced Education in Abu Dhabi. Photos Delores Johnson / The National

Soukaina Mouaki pulls out three drawings from a stack of A4 papers and lays them on the table.

On each is a sketch of Ms Mouaki in her black abaya, shayla and dark-rimmed square glasses.

Obviously drawn by children, messages including “I love you Miss Soukaina” are scribbled next to her portrait.

“It’s amazing how we can influence people’s lives,” says the trainee teacher, in her third year at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates College for Advanced Education. “These pictures are why I want to be a teacher.”

Miss Mouaki, 24, an Emirati, is one of a new generation of local trainee teachers who hope to have a big impact on their country’s future.

“The old style of teaching wasn’t about allowing the students to think critically or ask why. I’m a person who is curious about everything and I always ask why. My teachers never liked it.

“You had to take what was in the book, memorise it, and copy it out in an exam. Things are changing now and it is exciting to be part of it.”

In September, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, said he wanted to hire more Emirati teachers, trained to teach according to the council’s New School Model, which encourages child-centred learning, cultural engagement and applied knowledge.

The NSM had already been implemented up to Grade 5 but was rolled out across Grades 6 and upwards at the start of this academic year.

Speaking at a public event, Dr Al Khaili said the NSM was a key element in fulfilling the vision of Abu Dhabi 2030 because it focuses on developing the student as “a communicator, thinker and problem solver”.

This year the Emirates College for Advanced Education appointed a new vice chancellor, put in place by the government, whose job it is to ensure the college meets the ever-increasing standards required by Adec. As the methods of teaching students in public schools is overhauled, so too must the methods of teaching the teachers.

Professor Mohamed Yousif Baniyas, former Provost of the UAE University in Al Ain, started on September 1 and has big plans for the college.

“There are areas that need special attention at the moment, such as the inclusion of special-needs children, and early childhood development.

“Because of my background they asked me to look at developing the college’s future. We need to prepare the teachers in many more ways than years before. They have to have a good knowledge of educational psychology and health etcetera.”

When revealing details about the NSM rollout in September, Adec said a “high number” of the 6,479 Emirati teachers in Abu Dhabi public schools would need to be retrained to teach maths and science in English.

The latest changes take the education system even further from the traditional rote-learning methods used in the past.

“There are some misconceptions about teaching,” says trainee Ghadeer Gharib, 23. “Families think we teach in the traditional way, which was students are cups and teachers fill them with information. I discovered it is totally different.

“There are many strategies to be an effective teacher and you can be creative in your lessons. The education style is changing.”

All the students do placements in private and public schools in Abu Dhabi during every year of their course. Samira Al Nuaimi, head of student affairs development, and herself a teacher for more than 15 years, says it is invaluable training.

“Every time when a group comes back from the schools I ask them ‘do you miss your children’, and they start to cry,” she says. “The practicum is the best advantage that this college has because the students see the real picture.”

For most of the trainee teachers, this is the first time they have been back in a classroom since they were children.

Dhabia Al Mulla, 30, originally from Umm Al Quwain but now living in Abu Dhabi, is in her penultimate year at the college.

“When I was at school it was very teacher centred, now it’s about the students. They are encouraged much more in lessons and their role is equal to the teachers’.”

Mrs Al Mulla, who married when she was a teenager and left school to raise a family herself, said she never dreamed she would return to the classroom.

“I didn’t want to be teacher but since I’ve joined the college and been practising, I’ve changed my mind. I am proud of myself that I will do this job.

“When I joined the college I didn’t know anything about how they teach our children. My children were in private school but since I joined I have moved them to public. I want to teach in public schools, we need to be there to support our children.”

In public schools in Abu Dhabi the teaching is done in English and Arabic, but many schools employ young teachers from western countries who do not speak Arabic.

The benefit of having more local, and locally-trained, teachers, is that pupils benefit from their teachers speaking both languages.

“I will teach in public schools,” says Alaa Al Noori, 24, a third-year student. “If pupils go to school and don’t speak English at home, how can you teach them properly in English? You need to help them to learn. We are trained to help the Emirati students, I feel I have a responsibility to them, to give them what I have and teach them with the best resources to get them ready for the next step.”

After completing the four-year Bachelor of Education Programme, the students can teach kindergarten up to Grade 5, in English, maths and science.

The college also offers a one-year Postgraduate Diploma in Education for candidates with a bachelor’s degree with a major or minor relating to education.

Prof Baniyas hopes to introduce a bridging course for students who have degrees unrelated to education to learn how to teach their specialism.

This, he says, would help school pupils to receive a better level of teaching in the specialist subjects, especially the sciences.

Speaking in September, Dr Al Khaili, of Adec, said that for schools to serve Abu Dhabi’s 2030 vision and the economy, they needed to concentrate on the science track.

“If we give enough activities and enough classes in the science disciplines we might get people interested in these topics that serve out community,” he said.

Zainab Al Kathari, 22, who spent some of her childhood in England, is a fashion-design graduate and would love to teach art. “I love kids because they are joyful,” she says.

The vast majority of trainees are women with only a handful – but growing number – of men. Of the roughly 400 students, about 30 are men.

One of these is Saeed Saif, 21, an Emirati who went to 10 schools when he was younger because his family traveled around the emirate a lot.

“It was all one plus one equals two. Why? Because we said so. Now it is very different. And for me I like to know that when I finish college I will find work immediately.

“But still some people don’t have respect for teaching. I hope it changes, I want to make a difference in my country.”

MUnderwood@thenational.ae