Calls for balance between arts and science subjects

A week after the Ministry of Education announced there would be a greater emphasis on sciences at public schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, experts have stressed that a well-rounded education is crucial.

DUBAI // A balance must be struck between teaching science subjects and humanities such as art and literature, education experts say.

A week after the Ministry of Education announced there would be a greater emphasis on sciences at public schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, experts have stressed that a well-rounded education is crucial.

“While there is no doubt that enhanced scientific and engineering skills are important to develop students’ employability in line with the UAE goals and vision, a well-rounded education is all about a healthy balance,” said Jeff Evans, managing director of Learning Key Educational Consultancy in Al Ain.

“Through exploration of the humanities we learn how to think creatively and critically, to reason and to ask questions.”

The curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education introduces subjects such as technology, design innovation, health sciences, career guidance and business management.

Although core subjects such as history, geography, economics, social studies and mathematics are in accordance with international standards, Mr Evans said subjects with an arts focus were just as important.

“These skills allow us to gain new insights into everything from poetry and paintings to business models and politics,” Mr Evans said. “Humanistic subjects have been at the heart of a balanced education.”

Some pupils excel in arts and sciences, and should have all options kept open, he said.

“A few schools offer the superb Duke of Edinburgh International Award, which teaches children to become resilient, physically active, community-minded and collaborative,” Mr Evans said.

“Each of these are as important as the development of scientific or engineering competence.”

Judith Finnemore, of Focal Point Management Consultancy, said humanities were an important window to the past.

“The paucity of humanities is utterly disheartening. This country has a rich history going back more than 4,000 years, yet most people are ignorant of it.”

Ms Finnemore was also concerned about the introduction of two sets of exams, saying coursework and practicals were better guides to a pupil’s progress.

“Exams are only mechanisms for rote learning,” she said. “On one hand they are asking for students to be more critical thinkers and problem solvers, but they still want to use these traditional methods.”

She said pupils were not taught to recognise bias and had a poor understanding of geography.

Mr Evans said that time devoted to Arabic, Islamic and UAE social studies had increased steadily in the past five years, meaning other important subjects were being squeezed out in some schools.

“Sadly, it is often subjects such as drama, art and music that suffer in curriculum realignment,” he said. “This is very dangerous as we need to develop all branches of education to fully cater for the wide range of students in a group.”

“In any school or class each individual student will have different strengths or talents, and therefore to focus on science subjects at the expense of others could pose a risk for the future.”

The changes were brought about this term and the effects have been immediate, pupils said.

“The mathematics and science books are huge compared to last year,” said Aya Al Herbawi, a Grade 8 pupil at Umm Al Alaa School in Fujairah. “Maths is 260 pages and science is 395 pages, which is double the size of last year, and the books are for only one semester.

“Seventh grade students are studying the same science topics that we are taking now and we heard that next year we will start taking both subjects in English, which will be a challenge too.”

But Aya, 13, said she had not found the work too difficult so far.

“We used to memorise many things. Now it seems much easier but time won’t be on our side if we want to finish all of the book in one semester,” she said.

nhanif@thenational.ae

Published: September 7, 2016 04:00 AM

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