x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

State schools to emphasise English

17 schools in Dubai and the north will begin daily English lessons for kindergarten pupils.

DUBAI //Kindergarten pupils at 17 state schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates will begin daily English lessons this week, the Ministry of Education said yesterday.

Until now, English has been taught from Grade 1 upwards but officials say there is an urgent need to implement bilingual education at an earlier stage.

"The programme has been set up in a way that emphasises the importance of the Arabic language and prepares the pupils for English learning to continue in Grade 1," said Fouzia Hassan Gharib, the ministry's assistant undersecretary.

Ms Gharib said all education zones in the country had been asked to prepare the selected schools for the new curriculum, by briefing the English teacher at the school to prepare for two daily classes with the kindergarteners.

She said the education zones will have to run the English-language programme "in a way that does not interfere with or interrupt" the Arabic-language programme.

The ministry's decision is not dissimilar to the two-year-old New School Model of the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec). Under the model's curriculum, Arabic and English language courses are taught simultaneously by two teachers in a lower grade classroom, while pupils in higher grades receive intensive English-language classes from teachers from anglophone nations such as Canada, the US and the UK.

The emphasis on bilingual learning and early exposure to English is part of a national effort to better prepare students for university, where English is typically the language of instruction.

Because of the low standards of English education at the school level, more than 90 per cent of high school pupils enrol in remedial courses at university before being able to pursue their degrees.

Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, director general of Adec, said that since it implemented the New School Model, pupils scores have improved. "The number of students joining higher education institutions without the need to participate in any foundation programme has gone from three to 10 per cent," he said.

Dr Fawziah Al Badri, director of research and studies at the ministry, said it wanted to stress the importance of language learning at the kindergarten stage, and create sustainable programmes.

"It is also the desire of the parents that their children be well-versed in English," she said.

At a recent conference on early years education, Ms Al Badri said the ministry was working on 10 other detailed projects to improve early childhood education.

"We have started training the teachers in a specific curriculum, and there will be more resources provided to them as well as teacher assistants."

Studies indicate the best time to learn another language is in the first three to four years of life.

Jill Clark, a school improvement adviser at CfBT, the education trust that worked in several Adec schools as part of a public-private partnership programme, said the bilingual model promotes pupils' confidence in both languages. "In my opinion, the young children seemed to have taken on the language quite easily," she said.

In Dubai and the north, the effect of the new curriculum is to be assessed at the end of the academic year. Modifications are to be made before the programme is rolled out to more schools.

Laila Mohammed Abdulla, a kindergarten teacher at Al Amwaj School in Umm Al Qaiwain, said the new system would need parents' support.

"The parent must spend time following up with what the child has studied in school," she said. "Also, to develop their language skills we will have to conduct more reading activities."

aahmed@thenational.ae