x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Officials to learn their lesson

Education officials will look at preparations for the next academic year after some schools had to delay teaching because of a lack of textbooks.

ABU DHABI // Education officials are taking a second look at their preparations for the next academic year after some schools had to delay the start of teaching in September because of a lack of textbooks. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) announced yesterday that it was holding meetings with several education zones to ensure the problem did not repeat itself. The meetings will also address issues such as the hiring of more qualified teachers, resources for pupils and repairs to schools.

In a statement following the first meeting on Feb 1, the council said it would start hiring its own teachers and principals for the first time with the start of the new school year. In the past, the Ministry of Education hired teachers who in turn were assigned to schools by the education zones. It also said it would implement new hiring guidelines for teachers. One of the education zone officials in attendance, Mohammed al Dhaheri, the head of the Abu Dhabi Zone, later said he emphasised to the council the need for accurate statistics to ensure adequate resources.

"We are very keen to make sure the first day of school goes smoothly," he said. "We know how important the start of the school year is, and children should be in classrooms starting to learn from the hour of school." He was also quoted in the council statement as saying that school repairs should be finished by the time classes started. "They need teachers in every classroom and textbooks in place from very beginning. I don't know that we have ever achieved that in the past, but that is our goal for next year."

Educators said they hoped the meetings would help resolve the issues. Tina Hathorn, a principal adviser to two schools in Abu Dhabi, Salama bint Butti and Um al Emarat school in Al Shamka, said staffing issues, textbook delays, and frequent student absences meant less instructional time. Pupils in state schools would have a hard time competing with peers around the world when so much time is lost from an already short academic calendar, she said.

"We're trying to meet international standards," Ms Hathorn said, "and our kids are not receiving the same instructional time as in other countries. If you're getting less time - fewer hours than students elsewhere are required - then you can't be expected to learn the same amount of knowledge that they're getting." Ms Hathorn said both of her schools were short of teachers at the start of the year.

Part of the problem, she said, was that schools do not know how many pupils will be attending before school starts in September. "They get a preliminary idea of how many students are going to be there in May, but they don't have exact numbers until school starts," she said. The issue is further complicated by frequent student absences at the start of the year. "A lot of students just don't show," she said. "It would help if they came up with a system that would make parents accountable for their children showing up for school. There are not any severe consequences for frequent absences, and our test results reflect that."

Hussain Koujan, a pupil at Al Muttanabi secondary school in Abu Dhabi, said first-term books arrived on time in September but that pupils had not yet received the physics workbook for the second term, which began more than a week ago. The education council, which is expected to meet weekly with the education zones until the next school year, has formed a number of committees charged with tackling the issues facing schools.

A textbook committee, for example, will take inventory of the number of books needed for next year and submit its list to the Ministry of Education. Haneen Dajani also contributed reporting. klewis@thenational.ae