Experts at an international conference in Ajman focus on developing pre-school teachers
UAE must inspire and support ‘struggling’ nursery staff
Teachers at UAE nurseries are struggling and need support to improve the level of education, experts told a conference in Ajman yesterday.
The Ministry of Education’s Early Childhood Development Conference heard that teachers needed to have their confidence boosted with training and development, while nurseries also needed to improve the services they provide.
“The social and emotional well-being of children in pre-school classes has been very superficial, with things like putting a happy badge on without really looking at a teacher’s impact,” said Helen Maffini, director of MindBe, an education company that supports schools and other organisations.
“It’s great to study all the other countries but we need to find what works here. Classes are big and that puts a lot of pressure on teachers. Imagine managing 30 children. One can’t eat peanuts, another is facing its parents’ divorce and the mother of the third is having a baby.
“The pupils get attached to their teachers and, on top of that, teachers face outside demands.”
Ms Maffini believes nurseries need to look at the whole picture before developing their curriculum.
Dr Samia Kazi, chief executive of Arabian Child, a social enterprise dedicated to supporting the development of early childhood education and care, said she wanted more scholarships for good teachers.
“Teachers are struggling and they want access to qualifications and training, but they are not able to afford it,” Dr Kazi said. “I asked a teacher what she does and she shrugged her shoulders and answered, ‘I’m a nursery teacher’. She wasn’t proud of it.
“After a year of training, I asked her the same question and this time she was proud to say ‘I’m a nursery teacher’.
“People working with very young children actually need more training. There is stigma that the better teachers work with higher grades. Teachers need that confidence and we need to reassure them.”
Dr Kazi believes nurseries must practise working in partnership and not in competition with each other.
Laura Henry, managing director of Children’s Oasis Nursery in Dubai, said that the issue was a global one.
“How can we make sure teachers are passionate and love working with children?” Ms Henry asked. “Globally there is an issue. Early childhood teachers have always been seen as the poor relatives.
“Early education matters because of the rapid development of the brain at that age. The more highly qualified the teacher is, the better for the children. The qualifications of teachers are important, as is continuing professional development.”
Short courses can also help with self-reflection, she said.
“I think nurseries are investing in the right places,” Ms Henry said. “Anywhere you go in the world where there is private day care 70 per cent of the income fee from parents goes towards salaries.
“Also, there is the cost of the building, the materials they have to replenish, training, visas and licences and ongoing professional development. An all-transparent nursery should tell parents these are what the costs are going towards.”
Maddie White, a trainer and education consultant in Dubai, said investing in teachers was important so that they could put into practice what they have learnt.
“This makes teachers feel valued,” Ms White said. “They want to make a difference to the children.”
The Ministry of Education said that it planned to motivate nursery teachers by conducting training, holding workshops and bringing in rewards and prizes that recognise their work.
More than 1,100 international early childhood development experts and educators attended the two-day conference in Ajman.
This week’s conference is just the first in a series of annual meetings to be organised by the Ministry of Education in the UAE.