Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Many pupils have 'little intention' of pursuing science or technology career, survey finds

But science push in government schools could pique interest 

Abdullah Ali Ameri, 14, programs a robot at the Higher Colleges of Technology Men's College in Abu Dhabi designed to encourage more youngsters into a career in the sciences. Silvia Razgova / The National
Abdullah Ali Ameri, 14, programs a robot at the Higher Colleges of Technology Men's College in Abu Dhabi designed to encourage more youngsters into a career in the sciences. Silvia Razgova / The National

Teachers must deal with a fear factor that is blocking high school pupils from considering careers in science and technology, educators and academics say.

Shibani Nagda, a science teacher in Al Ain, said many of her pupils were intimidated by science subjects.

“One way to decrease this is perhaps to introduce the sciences from an earlier age and put a greater effort on emphasising the importance of the sciences and technology,” Ms Nagda said.

Other hurdles to producing a new generation of scientists, in line with Abu Dhabi’s plans for economic diversification, are pupils’ perceptions of career rewards and a lack of teacher encouragement for those who are not regarded as the smartest in the class.

“It seems that students are put off by the fact that the reward for careers in the physical sciences and technology are not necessarily enough for the amount of work and effort that goes into it,” Ms Nagda said.

“There is also a stigma attached to studying the sciences. Although there is some level of encouragement for more students to pursue such subjects, there is an inherent discouragement for students who are not identified by teachers as the ‘smartest’ to develop their interest.”

Sarah Fay, a science teacher who works with an elite group of public school pupils chosen to be part of an advanced science programme, said given the right exposure children could learn to love science.

“The students that I work with, they want to be the scientists, they want to be the engineers,” Ms Fay said.

“They don’t just want to join the police or the army, they have big ambitions.

It’s not easy for a child to know what they want to do in the future, so it’s up to educators and leaders to guide them and let them explore.”

The teachers spoke after about 2,000 pupils throughout Abu Dhabi completed the Relevance of Science Education (Rose) survey, the results of which are being analysed by the Abu Dhabi Education Council and researchers from Yunnan University in China.

The Abu Dhabi Rose survey shows that many students in Abu Dhabi perceive science as a subject that is hard to learn and feel that it is hard to pursue it as a career,” said Peng Nai of Yunnun University, co-author of the research paper.

“More importantly, it is not only the capability to learn science, but possibly also their concerns about how they could progress in a science career.”

In many other countries that took part in the Rose survey, there was a clear gender divide between boys and girls, but in Abu Dhabi “gender registered no influence in students’ motivation to learn science”.

Dr Zeenath Khan, assistant professor of engineering and information sciences at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, said that while this was promising, there are still too few girls pursuing science in higher education or as ­career.

“It’s the environment that is really not conducive to girls even thinking about stem as an opportunity for them in the future,” Dr Khan said.

“It has to be a community effort – it has to be school, it has to be family.

“They have to talk about these careers not as something that is exclusive, or something for a certain group of people, but something that is for everybody if they want to pursue it.”

Education reform in Abu Dhabi


The emirate’s public education system has been in a constant state of change since the New School Model was launched in 2010 by the Abu Dhabi Education Council. The NSM, which is also known as the Abu Dhabi School Model, transformed the public school curriculum by introducing bilingual education starting with students from grades one to five. Under this new curriculum, the children spend half the day learning in Arabic and half in English – being taught maths, science and English language by mostly Western educated, native English speakers. The NSM curriculum also moved away from rote learning and required teachers to develop a “child-centered learning environment” that promoted critical thinking and independent learning. The NSM expanded by one grade each year and by the 2017-2018 academic year, it will have reached the high school level. Major reforms to the high school curriculum were announced in 2015. The two-stream curriculum, which allowed pupils to elect to follow a science or humanities course of study, was eliminated. In its place was a singular curriculum in which stem -- science, technology, engineering and maths – accounted for at least 50 per cent of all subjects. In 2016, Adec announced additional changes, including the introduction of two levels of maths and physics – advanced or general – to pupils in Grade 10, and a new core subject, career guidance, for grades 10 to 12; and a digital technology and innovation course for Grade 9. Next year, the focus will be on launching a new moral education subject to teach pupils from grades 1 to 9 character and morality, civic studies, cultural studies and the individual and the community.