Bilingual education for pupils aged four

School children in Abu Dhabi are to be taught simultaneously in Arabic and English.

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ABU DHABI // School children as young as 4 are to be taught simultaneously in Arabic and English, with two teachers in the classroom at the same time. The change is part of a new, uniform model for all government schools in the capital unveiled yesterday by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec). More than 600 new native English-speaking teachers will be hired to work in Abu Dhabi kindergartens alone.

In addition to bilingual kindergarten classes taught by two instructors, the plan includes a new curriculum, a longer working day for teachers, and a compulsory training programme for all teachers. The new plan shares a number of the goals of Adec's Public-Private Partnership (PPP) programme, which was was launched in 30 private schools in 2006 and brought private companies into the management of select state schools. Like the new model schools, the PPP programme encouraged active rather than passive learning.

Dr Lynne Pierson, the head of school development at Adec, said the new plan had come about from looking at other countries that were successful in educating young children. She said Adec had taken advice from staff at model schools and PPP schools. The PPP companies are on three-year contracts, and will continue to work in public schools. Dr Pierson said they would "be used to support the new school model".

"Key to the new school model in kindergarten is the notion of two teachers working in a classroom," she said. "The goal is for students to become literate in both Arabic and English, not one at the expense of the other." The first phase, which will begin this autumn, will affect 171 schools and 38,000 children. The model is scheduled to be in place in all state schools by 2016. Education chiefs hope it will reduce the need for many high-school graduates to take foundation lessons in English before beginning university degree courses.

According to Dr Pierson, extending the working day by an hour will give teachers time to collaborate and plan. Dr Pierson said existing primary school teachers who are being replaced with native English-speakers would not lose their jobs. "In kindergarten we're adding teachers, so the licensed teachers who are being hired will not replace expatriate Arab teachers or Emirati teachers," she said.

"In grades one and two the same staffing would be in place as last year, so there would be no additional teachers who would be replaced. In grade three, my understanding is that teachers would be reassigned to grades four or five, or another area that they are interested in pursuing." The goal, she explained, is "not to remove people who are not performing but rather to provide significant opportunities for teachers to learn and improve their skills". The school curriculum, which was overhauled four years ago, will be revamped again next year. In 2005, Adec contracted the New South Wales Department of Education in Australia to draft a "standards based" curriculum for Abu Dhabi schools. "Curriculum should always change. Curriculum is an evolutionary process," Dr Pierson said. She added that Adec had contracted the Parthenon Group, a Boston-based consulting firm, to review the curriculum and develop an "ongoing process for continuous review". "Best-practice school systems always include that kind of process. We didn't have that kind of process," she said. "The student outcomes were reviewed, refined, and those outcomes are a part of the new school model and are the foundation for the various resources that have been developed." According to Dr Pierson "significant" changes have been made to the existing curriculum. "The new student outcomes and curriculum focus on activities. It's the difference between students watching and listening and students doing. The new school model is about students doing," Dr Pierson said. The education council has developed standard classroom resources, such as an English alphabet kit. "The little stories that were written to describe each letter, those sentences were developed by some of our local teachers," Dr Pierson said. "Each drawing was drawn by one of our teachers so it reflects local culture."