'What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Parents are always anxious to hear the right answer from their children: a doctor, a lawyer, a football player…the list goes on. Personally, I wanted to be a lawyer, then a tennis player, but ended up in communications. I still enjoy negotiating and work out regularly so in a sense I'm still connected to my earlier goals.
The question is, can education in the UAE prepare children to achieve their hopes and dreams?What needs to be improved?
There are many answers to these questions, but I am glad to see that the media and various agencies are at last raising the questions. That in itself is one step forward.
It is worthwhile to compare the UAE's school system with that of other countries like the United States, which has the best private schools in the world but faces problems in public schools,which most young people attend.This year's emotional documentary, Waiting for Superman by David Guggenheim, uses personal experiences to narrate the story of the US public school system. The underlying message is that public schools are neglected and pupils at risk unless urgent action is taken.
There is no uniform system in the UAE, with British, American, Montessori and state curricula all being used.The concern is about the core learning methods used by most schools, not the actual subjects. Most schools offer a similar range of Arabic, English, maths, science, etc, but very few think outside the box.Children are given few options to pursue their own creative paths, so when they graduate from high school they have only a vague idea about their future.
Schools need to startpreparing pupils at a very early stage. In some countries, this preparation takes place in extracurricular activities on campus. Students interested in acting enrol in drama club, and start filling in the accomplishments section of their curriculum vitae. Other students interested in athletics will sign up for the school team - a decision that mateventually guide them into a career.
If this approach were implemented in the UAE, children would be more passionate about their aspirations. Skills learnt in school would be reinforced by supplementary activities, which also would further bolster the pupils' confidence. These types of experiencesenable young people to realise they can excel.
That the community hereis a mix of cultures and nationalities can be a benefit, yet it has diluted Arabic language abilities for many children. Most teaching methods for Arabic are also lacking. Very few private schools implement a coordinated,gradual approach to teaching Arabic, in contrast to English tuition. Many children are more receptive to learning English for various reasons, not least because it is taught using a more practical and creative approach. English courses follow a gradual language development method starting from kindergarten. More innovative methods are also applied, such as story time and watching movies, which make the children want to learn.
Arabic classes, on the other hand, are usually much less practical. The approach is often coercive, forcing children to absorb massive amounts of information all at once. The approach depends on rote memorisation and usually revolves around irrelevant themes that are not thoughtprovoking or creative.
Arabic is just one example, although a particularly important one because it is the nation's mother tongue. Parents, schoolsand relevant organisations need to work hand in hand to educate the children and provide a strong learning environment.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's my turn to pose this question. My child replies: "I'm going to be a doctor!"
Maybe he will or he won't, but the ambition is what every parent wants to hear. At least he should have the chance.
Nehal Badri is an Emirati writer who lives in Dubai