Students as young as 15 face decision to shape their lives but need more rounded education.
Pupils need more time to think on career
ABU DHABI // Pupils are making career decisions as young as 15, with many later regretting the courses they chose.
In the later years of education in state and some private schools there remains a simple choice: science or literature?
From that point, there may be no turning back.
"I went into literature track because I wanted to make sure my parents wouldn't force me into medicine," said Laila Saleh, 25, from Dubai.
"But now I wish I hadn't. In my last year at school I regretted my decision. I want to be a doctor. It would be easier for a person who was in the scientific track to be a teacher, but not the other way around."
Islam Ismail, 25, studied in the scientific track in a government school in the capital. She said pupils needed more leeway.
"How do I know what I want to be at 16?" said Ms Ismail, of Abu Dhabi. "I took the scientific track. They don't even give you as many classes of Arabic as you would get in the literature track.
"We want variety, not everything biology, chemistry, physics - we all get bored of these subjects. We have no way to be creative or explore other subjects. I would have loved to learn about history."
Ms Ismail said although she always received top grades in chemistry, she constantly failed in biology.
"There should be a way to not have to take all subjects together, or take less of one and more of the other," she said. "This system lowered my grade."
Dr Nabil Ibrahim, the chancellor of Abu Dhabi University, said the system needed immediate change.
"It's really bad," Dr Ibrahim said. "I mean, a 15-year-old kid - how would she or he know what they should go for? Plus kids at that age should study both. Why limit them to something?"
And while the UAE is in urgent need of science and technology graduates, not enough children choose the science track to provide them.
Dr Howard Reed, the senior director of Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Dubai, said the literature track limited students and led them into "bad habits".
At HCT, as with many other institutions, the literature track students outnumber those who have taken science.
It is a problem of which the Ministry of Education and the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) are well aware.
Last year Adec brought in a team of education professionals from the education advisory Parthenon Group to review its curriculum.
"We asked them does our curriculum, in its present form, take us to the 2030 vision," said Dr Rafic Makki, the executive director of planning and strategic affairs at Adec. "And the answer was no, we needed to change."
One of Parthenon's key findings was that the two-track system was too rigid and did not allow pupils to select individual subjects, said Dr Lynne Pierson, the head of P-12 education at Adec.
"We are teaching too many courses, which doesn't allow students any choice," Dr Pierson said. "We are teaching 10-13 courses to students. In other systems they may teach six or seven core subjects.
"Then students have an opportunity, with guidance and with planning, to select among other courses that would either fill the requirements or be a course of interest to the students."
Dr Makki expressed hope the two-track system would be modified to allow for more options.
"We owe that to the students," Dr Pierson said.
Sheikha Khulood Al Qassimi, the director of the curriculum department at the Ministry of Education, has also said previously the ministry was looking into eliminating the two-track system.
"The ministry is studying the possible curriculum structure for high school students," Sheikha Khulood said last month.
"But we agree that pupils should be taking some basic subjects and the rest must be electives."
No date has been set for the change.
"This is still in the planning phase, though it could be in place by the 2012-2013 academic year," Sheikha Khulood said.
* With additional reporting by Afshan Ahmed