UAE schools must improve Arabic lessons

The only segment in which Dubai private schools are falling behind is in teaching Arabic, which prompts calls to give it greater emphasis.

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Despite the marked rise in overall standards at Dubai’s private schools over recent years, the education sector in the emirate must continue to improve the Arabic language programmes provided in schools: too often these are rated as weak and unsatisfactory.

As The National reported yesterday, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's private schools inspection report revealed that while there was a slight improvement in spoken Arabic in some schools, three-quarters had shortcomings in Arabic as a first and additional language. The general poor quality of Arabic teaching is KDHA's most persistent bugbear in a sector where there is much to be proud of in terms of quality and rising standards.

Sadly, in some international curricula schools, the Arabic language department is developed simply to meet local authority requirements rather than being nurtured with the same commitment to excellence and improvement that might be lavished on a core subject such as English or maths. Teaching methods for Arabic language classes are often archaic and disengaged. Only one private school in the emirate, Kings’ School, has regularly earned an outstanding rating for its teaching and that’s because, as the school’s Alison Turner pointed out, “we have lots of creative solutions for teaching Arabic”. Others must follow this example and find new ways to engage with pupils.

Having six systems – UK, US, Indian, French, International Baccalaureate and Ministry of Education – within one education sector should provide a great advantage for schools and allow them to look at the best practices of their competitors and follow them. In education, as elsewhere, competition will inevitably drive innovation.

A bilingual education system is important for all students, and particularly students whose native language is Arabic. It allows them to have a sense of identity and move freely in the UAE’s multicultural society while retaining an important link to their cultural and linguistic heritage. There is also an economic advantage, as the regional job market needs fluency and literacy in both languages.

International schools should be just that – international – but they should also be rooted in the place in which they are based. Arabic must be far more than a required subject, it should be a cornerstone of every school’s teaching.