x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Respect for teaching needed 'to get best staff'

Training of classroom professionals comes top of UAE agenda in economic survey.

Teaching must be highly respected as a profession if the best staff are to be recruited and retained, said officials in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

A recent policy survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Abu Dhabi's entire education system, which has yet to be published, puts teacher training at the top of the agenda.

Ian Whitman, the head of programme for cooperation with non-member economies in the OECD's directorate of education said, "teachers, teachers, teachers" was the overriding theme in his talks with UAE Government officials.

He said more focus on Arabic language and the local culture was also a recommendation in the survey, which was initially requested by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and is currently in its final phase.

He said it was important to train local teachers instead of only employing English-speaking expats for teaching jobs.

Barbara Ischinger, the director for education at the OECD, who gave a lecture on skills and jobs at Sheikh Mohammed's royal palace in the capital, said it was important to invest in teachers and make their profession "attractive". "Teachers should be proud of what they do," she said. "If you make their profession a strong one, you will have better learning outcomes."

She commended Abu Dhabi's participation in OECD's next Teaching and Learning International Survey next year, which helps teachers to evaluate themselves.

Palestinian student Shaima Al Barguthi, 18, who is studying French at the Paris Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi, said teachers at her Sharjah high school were not very experienced. "They were very young, around 21 or 22, so I always felt that this was a problem," she said.

Things will not change until the society considers a teacher "on the same level as an engineer or doctor", said Seloua Soud-Joubert, the head of student affairs at the university.

"Students will not look up to their teacher or want to go into teaching because it's not as respected as other professions," she said. "It is too bad because teachers have such a big role in society."

But the teaching profession is not the only challenge facing the UAE and most other countries.

According to Ms Ischinger, matching people's skills with the right jobs is one of the most vital aspects for economic growth.

"Skills have become the global currency of 21st century economies," she said.

Ms Ischinger said the "toxic mix" of unemployed graduates and employers unable to find the skills they need, can have an adverse effect. But the OECD is on the verge of releasing its Skills Strategy report in late May, which will help countries to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their national skills pools and skills systems.

"If we want to succeed at turning skills into better jobs and better lives, we need to understand more about those skills that transform lives and drive economies," she said, adding that tackling unemployment is "everyone's business".

Unemployment rates in OECD countries last year were an average of 17 per cent.

The OECD Skills Strategy will also help governments work more closely with other sectors in designing and delivering curricula and training programmes.

According to Mr Whitman, one of the biggest challenges the UAE faces is motivating the Emirati youth to enter the workforce. He said it would be a good thing if more people went into the private sector instead of government work.

However, he said: "There are just not enough Emiratis to fill up the entire workforce, so I think a better integration of the expatriates could be part of the solution."

molson@thenational.ae