x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE students show little improvement in Arabic

Students in private schools in Dubai are showing no improvement in their Arabic language skills, according to the emirate's education authority.

DUBAI // Students at private schools in Dubai are showing no improvement in Arabic, the education authority says.

An annual report released on Tuesday by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority found students’ skills in English, mathematics and science had improved over the past five years.

But their progress in Arabic, whether as a first or additional language, lagged far behind.

Experts blamed outdated methods and over-reliance on rote learning.

“Language needs to be located in realistic situations to improve the quality of teaching in Arabic,” said Chris McDermott, chief executive of Gems Jumeirah Primary School.

“There’s an importance of speaking and listening as opposed to writing, because the way we acquire our first language is through that and being in realistic situations.

“Language learning at its best is when children are in a realistic or quasi-realistic situation, such as role play. At its worst, it involves the pen and paper.”

Mr McDermott said the problem was exacerbated by some Arabic tutors relying on materials translated from English.

“Teachers speak English but it’s much easier for them to access ideas and material if they’re doing so in their own language,” he said.

“Some material still hasn’t been translated into Arabic so that’s another issue. It’s helpful to give those people listening time to reflect on this material in their own language.”

Although the quality of Arabic teaching varied from school to school, the co-founder of Which School Adviser, an independent guide of the best private schools in the UAE, said it was the responsibility of all schools to ensure the success of the language.

“They operate in the UAE and know that Arabic is the principal language so it’s their responsibility to ensure that children can perform adequately,” James Mullan said.

The KHDA report found the 13 private schools following the Ministry of Education curriculum had shown no overall improvement across all subjects.

“The persistently poor quality of assessment in ministry schools is worrying,” it read.

“In these schools, the assessment of learning is rarely good and there has been no discernible improvement over time.

“With teaching and learning, assessment of what students learn still requires urgent improvements.”

The 13 schools, which teach 16,000 students, provided a quality of education that has remained “no better than acceptable” over the past five years, the report said.

“Schools are aware of the criteria used by the KHDA to determine good or outstanding schools,” said Mr Mullan. “They know they have to deliver against that criteria when it comes to inspections.”

Schools that improved the most followed a UK curriculum.

“The British curriculum is a third of private schools in Dubai,” Mr Mullan said. “It is a very popular curriculum within the UAE so there’s a lot of competition within that sector for students.”

The report also found there were 34 more schools compared with five years ago, accommodating an extra 107,000 students, and that there had been a 50 per cent increase in schools rated “good”.

This year the KHDA will put an emphasis on special-needs children and Emirati students.

“Having annual inspections is good because it keeps you on your toes and keeps you focused,” said Mr McDermott.

“The idea of somebody inspecting you in a supportive manner is really helpful because it helps you to self-audit so that you move on to get better.”

cmalek@thenational.ae