Better teachers are key to education reform

A US schools administrator says it will take time to achieve the UAE's radical education reforms.

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DUBAI // A US schools administrator said it would take time to achieve the UAE's radical education reforms and one of the key issues was preparing teachers for the task of educating pupils. "It seems to me that there is a huge teacher preparation issue," said Dr Lois Adams-Rodgers, who took part in a round-table discussion on school reform convened by the Ministry of Education yesterday.

"The most important interaction that goes on in the school is between the teachers and the students," she said in an interview. The round table is part of the ministry's effort to carry out a radical overhaul of primary and secondary education. It was held with the British University in Dubai. Dr Adams-Rodgers said standards, quality teaching, assessment and transparency were the key to any reform effort. "What I've learned about reform is that you need a plan of action, you have to have a vision and a mission and a focus for what you really want children to know, and be able to do regardless of what country it is or what state it is," she said.

"You need to have clear standards so that the educational programme from the preparation of teachers and administrators is really clearly aligned. All of that requires a lot of professional development." Dr Adams-Rodgers, who is deputy executive director of the US Council of Chief State School Officers, previously worked as deputy commissioner in the Kentucky Department of Education, and has also worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Ministry of Education has undertaken a nationwide reform programme aimed at improving examination results and preparation for university. It is focusing on improving teacher and principal qualifications as well as overhauling teaching methods and the curriculum and assessment models used in state schools. At present, many first-year students enter university without fluency in English, the language of instruction at state universities. As a result, up to a third of the budget at several state universities is spent on remedial English-language courses to prepare new students for classes.

Only 11 per cent of university applicants achieved the standard of English required to start a degree or diploma course at a government university. The Ministry of Education has announced a number of teacher-training programmes to establish educational requirements for teachers. Dr Adams-Rogers said education reform on a scale this vast would necessarily take time. Transparency and data gathering were critical to any reform effort and noted that "it seems that data is lacking in several key areas".

The Ministry of Education has declined requests from The National to provide figures for drop-out rates, expenditure per student and attendance rates. Dr Adams-Rodgers said the ultimate goal for any school system was preparing students for the demands of a 21st-century workforce. "Everybody is looking at that bigger depth of knowledge, but also the ability to be critical thinkers, to work in groups, to collaborate. Regardless of what country you're in, people are saying, 'I need people who are critical thinkers, not just memorisers, I need them to be able to analyse and synthesise information', all of those skills are necessary."