With a number of national drives announced in the past year, we take a look at how they might affect education in the UAE
Knowledge is power, so the adage goes – and it’s never truer than when applied to education.
As our understanding of tomorrow’s world continues to shift, it’s true that traditional methods of teaching and learning have some catching up to do. And with new educational directives in the works from the Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek) and the UAE’s Ministry of Education, that’s exactly what’s happening here.
We take a look at the latest directives for education, and what they mean for your child.
With four pillars – Character and Morality; The Individual and the Community; Civic Studies and Cultural Studies – the Moral Education programme is designed to inculcate a cross-cultural framework in schools and teach values including tolerance, mental health and diversity.
Introduced in 2016, the scheme was rolled out to six pilot schools in the capital at the beginning of the 2017/2018 academic year, with a full implementation to begin at a later stage.
“Academics are taught in every school, but intellectual curiosity is fostered,” comments Morgan Whitfield Carney, head of sixth form at pilot school Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, who’s responsible for the programme’s academic integration into the school’s existing curriculum.
“Moral Education is about building skills that aid in all areas of school life – academic and extra-curricular,” she adds. “We can tailor classes to our students’ backgrounds and experiences, making the material relevant and alive. Differences in politics, religions and cultures are explored, shared and celebrated. Textbooks are rightfully discouraged. Pupils develop opinions and a sense of self by expressing themselves.”
It’s a sentiment that Emma Shanahan, principal at Aspen Heights British School, shares: “The added benefit I see is the way that families and the wider community are involved in promoting and supporting the Moral Education themes.
“I think children have always understood their responsibility to their families and school community, but the shift in emphasis to empower them to impact positively on their wider community, exploring themes such as civic duty, is something new that children have responded to enthusiastically.”
But with our kids’ future on our minds, Kollavana George Mathew, principal at GEMS United Indian School, says it has a lot of potential benefits for the fourth economic revolution, too.
“This supports the goals towards a skills-based education,” he says. “Tomorrow’s world is not one in isolation; it has to be about collaborative skills and understanding differences. This is exactly what is driving the next generation.”
Announced in May 2017, the Haweyati programme – which means ‘my identity’ – was rolled out to students from kindergarten to grade five in the first phase of implementation, with older students to follow in the 2018/2019 academic year.
With a goal of strengthening a sense of national cultural identity among Emirati students as well as helping expatriate pupils to understand more about their peers, the programme features a full curriculum framework and learning outcomes through hands-on and experiential learning.
“Understanding more about the place you’re in is a good thing,” Kollavana stresses. “By the very title, this gives the child a sense of the place they live in, their own roots and their own understanding of how they fit here.
“This turns students into more global citizens, as well as teaching them to value their host country.”
With a particular focus on themes including culture, society, values, Arabic language and history, the aim of the initiative is to preserve and promote an integral sense of Emirati identity within the education system at large.
Emirati School Model
Following the announcement in September 2017 that the Ministry of Education would lead the charge to unify curricula across the country, it is hoped that a centrally-run education system will provide standardised and better quality learning at local schools.
Previously, curricular content and regulations were overseen by separate authorities in each emirate, with Adek setting the score in Abu Dhabi.
“If school leaders from government schools have the opportunity to share best practice and influence the provision in their schools, I am sure this would be a positive move,” says Adrian Frost, vice principal and head of secondary at Amity International School.
“The UAE is diverse in its demographic and depending on the global destinations of pupils and their families, their educational requirements may differ,” he adds. “For this reason, our country’s leaders have a difficult task in ensuring that pupils can be competitive on a global platform when applying for higher education places or in their careers, either within the UAE or beyond.”
In line with the UAE Vision 2021, the new unified scheme will aim to get the UAE’s education system to rank in a global context.
“Up until now it has always been quite unclear where the boundaries lie between the Ministry of Education and Adek, so having one port of call for education that is responsible for developing the curriculum will be a good thing,” comments Christopher Gyngell, director of bespoke education provider Carfax Education.
“Hopefully this will now free up Adek to work on things like school improvement,” he adds.
Education isn’t just about the students: measures have been announced that affect educators, too.
Currently in development with a goal of full implementation by 2021, the teacher licencing scheme will represent the next step in quality control for the education system.
With minimum requirements for skills in English, information technology and maths, the licencing will take in different levels of career and the knowledge and skills required for each.
Details are yet to be announced as to the full framework, but what we do know is that the scheme will focus on standardising qualifications across the board for Emirati and expat teachers.
“The teacher licencing programme will ensure all teachers keep up to date with their subject knowledge, teaching pedagogy and skills,” Emma observes. “Teachers who are licenced will be in high demand in the region, and I can see the education recruitment market becoming even more competitive than it is currently.”
With all these changes being implemented, what will the nation’s education system look like in a few years’ time?
“The UAE has done well in this phase of education,” notes Christopher. “They have built capacity and have done so at a decent level, if you look at the number of schools built and the inspections within schools. But there will be a point when upward movement starts to slow, and at that point investing more money into post-16 would be an important thing to make sure students are getting the qualifications to go onto university,” he adds.
“Something I’d really like to see here is teacher training within the country,” Christopher remarks. “One of the reasons schooling is so expensive here is because teachers are brought in from outside. Training needs to come from here and be delivered here in such a way that Emiratis can become teachers without going overseas.”
National Strategy for Higher Education 2030
Proof that the UAE has long-term education goals across all levels of learning comes in the form of the National Strategy for Higher Education 2030.
Announced in September 2017 by the Ministry of Education, the 13-year plan will be a four-point framework to highlight the UAE as a global leader in tertiary learning in terms of its innovation, quality, relevance and harmonisation, and universities will receive a quality rating from one to three for the first time.
Largely science-focused, the strategy aims to build on existing higher education to provide future generations with the necessary technical and practical skills to drive the economy forward after oil.
For Amity International School’s Adrian, the idea of quality rating is all about balance: “When a higher education establishment is demanding fees sometimes in excess of AED 180,000, if I was a prospective student or a parent of one, I would welcome any fair comparison of education provision on key parameters to ensure I would get suitable return on my investment.
“That said, I am more than aware of some of the negative aspects of league table culture and I approach [that] with a healthy amount of scrutiny and skepticism.”
For GEMS United Indian School’s Kollavana, there needs to be a clear thread that links all the UAE’s future education plans: “I think the UAE is starting off very well with its goal to have more visibility internationally with improved PISA (a worldwide student performance ranking for maths, science and reading) scores by 2020 as part of the UAE National Agenda.
“If this can happen at school level, then we may see a similar developmental growth that extends into tertiary education.”
Carfax Education’s Christopher agrees, but notes that it may not change the status quo: “I do think quality rating universities will be a good thing, but I’m not sure if this will have a huge impact on how students choose their tertiary education.”
A total of 33 initiatives have been put forward to make some changes in tertiary education including improved career and professional development and job shadowing, as well as an aim to increase UAE-led research with funding and further PhD study and more transparency across the board.
“Most of the higher education here is geared towards business and engineering,” Christopher says. “One of the good things about local universities is that they have great links into industry after graduation, and those links may be what prospective students look at more than anything else.”
As for the UAE’s goals in terms of creating new knowledge with funding and more PhD programmes, Christopher notes that research is the key to move forward and become a global leader and if the UAE is to achieve this, that is where it needs to place the most emphasis.