Curriculum reforms will position the UAE well for the future, experts say

The revised curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education, which operates state schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, will introduce new subjects focused on technology, innovative design, health sciences, career guidance and business management.

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DUBAI // Teachers, social workers and education experts applauded the curriculum reforms announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The revised curriculum will introduce new subjects such as technology, innovative design, health sciences, career guidance and business management.

It was developed by the Ministry of Education, which operates state schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The core curriculum includes subjects such as history, geography, economics, social studies and mathematics, which accord with international standards.

Lessons will be conducted in English and Arabic to foster students’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

“These changes will clearly align school curricula with the country’s vision of building a ­robust knowledge and innovation economy,” said Sarah Shaer, associate researcher at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government. “Achieving a knowledge economy requires critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills.”

Ms Shaer said assessments of UAE students’ mathematics and science abilities in international tests indicated that local students were proficient in applying mathematical methods but lacked the skills to interpret questions and find solutions.

“Therefore a strong focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills is a necessary improvement on the current curricula,” Ms Shaer said.

“The plan improves dated teaching methods and focuses on engaging students through technology and immersive coursework.”

The restructuring of curricula would bring the UAE’s education system in line with international standards and help to meet the needs of universities and the workforce , said Jeff Evans, managing director of Learning Key Education Consultancy in Al Ain.

The changes mirror reforms under way in the capital, led by the Abu Dhabi Education Council, which operates public schools and regulates private schools. “This move is also in response to the needs of employers and universities because they prefer students who have strong subject knowledge,” Mr Evans said.

“However, they also require students with a broad range of well-developed personal, social and problem-solving skills in addition to critical thinking and innovation.”

He added that Britain and the United States were delivering similar curricula to meet the needs of the future.

Judith Finnemore, managing consultant at Focal Point Management Consultancy, welcomed the curricula changes as well suited to the UAE’s needs.

She said, however, that more time should have been given before the changes were introduced so that teachers could receive the necessary training and the relevant materials developed for schools.

“We are working with a number of schools here in Al Ain who have not been able to start the school year because they don’t know what the content of the new curriculum is and absolutely no curricular materials have arrived,” Ms Finnemore said.

“Last year texts arrived in October. School started three to four weeks before, and it looks like a similar picture this year.”

The lack of organisation had a detrimental effect on the needs of pupils, she said.

Ms Finnemore also questioned when teacher training for the new curricula could take place, because it would take more than a few days.

Subjects such as design technology, for instance, requires qualified teachers and equipment, such as computer-aided design and manufacturing machines, to help students create and produce their designs.

In Abu Dhabi, major reforms of the education system have been under way since Adec rolled out the new school model in 2010, which introduced English-language education to public schools and enhanced the maths and science curricula.

This week, Adec announced updates to its public high school curricula, while adding life skills and computer programming classes.

Mariam Al Marzouqi, a public school social worker, said the new curricula, focused on science and technology, had given Abu Dhabi students a “high ability” in those subjects.

The life skills and career counselling introduced for high school students would help them in the future, she said.

“We will help them with these things,” said Mrs Al Marzouqi. “We can give them more options and ensure they are well informed about the career and higher education opportunities available to them,” she said.

Bakaheet Salam, an Emirati high school teacher, said: “The changes are needed and they will be useful, but I need to understand all the details about it.”