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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

'No more boring lessons': textbooks are out and innovation is in at Dubai schools

Many schools in the emirate have stopped using textbooks as the main focus of their teaching methods

Gems Founders School Al Mizhar principal Nigel Cropley, at the school's Founders City, an example of the creative methods used to aid learning. Reem Mohammed / The National
Gems Founders School Al Mizhar principal Nigel Cropley, at the school's Founders City, an example of the creative methods used to aid learning. Reem Mohammed / The National

Dubai schools are throwing out textbooks in favour of more innovative ways to learn.

Some are switching focus towards vocational courses such as Business and Technology Education Council diplomas, using online resources and encouraging children to take part in structured play sessions.

The change of focus comes after a college in Dubai announced it had abolished exams in a bid to better prepare students for the workplace.

The Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government is challenging its students to solve real-world problems through assignments.

Now the Aquila School in Dubai has said there will be no more use of textbooks at the school, apart from Arabic and Islamic studies books.

“We only appoint teachers who really understand how to make the curriculum enjoyable, relevant and engaging,” said Wayne Howsen, principal at the school. “This means no boring lessons, no textbooks and no homework.”

The school follows a British curriculum but does not teach course material that is not relevant to pupils in the UAE.

Graeme Scott, director at Fairgreen International School, said the school wanted to offer an International Baccalaureate programme as well as the diplomas, providing an academic and vocational path.

The baccalaureate programme is an academic qualification globally accepted by universities. The diplomas are qualifications focusing on work. A pupil studying for the diplomas works on projects that help to develop practical knowledge and skills.

“We want to be as inclusive as we can and offer a range of options to older pupils so that the school is right for all children,” Mr Scott said. “We don’t do pointless tests, worksheets and textbooks. It’s not the best way for many children to learn.”

Bill Delbrugge, director at Dunecrest American School in Dubai, believes textbooks are good resources but should not drive instruction.

“The reason we embed technology into what we do is more than just for children to have resources,” Mr Delbrugge said. “In a class you’re learning the concepts but we want children to be excited about learning.”

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Read more:

Dubai universities drop exams to focus on 'the real world'

Forward-thinking Dubai schools choose innovation over exams

UAE students get top marks in IB exams - and set sights on Europe

UAE's university chiefs: learning needs to be about thinking – not just passing exams

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Pupils are encouraged to research many things, such as how to move an object through space for a mission to Mars.

“If the resources are online, that extends the school day,” Mr Delbrugge said.

Nigel Cropley, principal at Gems Founders Al Mizhar, said: “Not everyone is good at exams. A-level examinations are very challenging and pupils can succeed in other ways. Btecs will really help some of our pupils.”

Joanne Wells, principal at South View School, believes every activity in which children engage themselves is teaching them something.

Ms Wells believes that repetitive activity, which can seem aimless to adults, can help to increase children’s confidence in skills.

“These unstructured activities called play are the foundations of learning,” she said. “Play is an instinctive activity and it stokes curiosity and allows controlled risks to happen. In the best schools this will be encouraged.”

Some tertiary education institutions in Dubai are also focusing on structured play for innovation.

Babson College, which is opening a campus in Dubai, also uses serious play as a critical part of its teaching strategy.

“On their first day, they will probably do jigsaw puzzles and make quilts as a playful introduction to entrepreneurial thought,” said Keith Rollag, dean of F W Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College, Massachusetts.

Students take part in games exercises and competitions that bring course concepts to life and motivate learning, Mr Rollag said.

“Babson’s philosophy of learn by doing permeates our entire curriculum.”