Classes must be more child-centered, experts say

UAE schools talked about better teaching methods at the Building Future Education Mena exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi // The UAE needs teachers who talk less and listen more, experts said yesterday.

While progress in the education system has been slow, officials said a better, more child-centred system is taking shape, and urged teachers and parents to be patient.

The key is attracting teachers who are trained in more engaging methods, rather than the older generation who tend to lecture rather than interact with their pupils.

The call for patience came as education experts and teachers gathered in the capital at the Building Future Education Mena exhibition to share their expertise on how the next generation should be taught.

"This is the end of education as we know it, and the beginning of learning," said Professor Stephen Heppel, an expert in new media environments at Bournemouth University in the UK.

Humaid Mohammed al Qatami, the Minister of Education, expressed the hope that the event would bring the fulfilment of the 2030 vision for the capital a step closer. Officials from the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) described it as marking an evolution in education in the emirate.

"This is an important occasion for all academics from all around the world to exchange expertise," said Dr Mugheer Khamis, the director general of Adec. "I hope managers and teachers all take something from this."

Although changes were slow, they were visible, said Professor John Hattie, director of visible learning laboratories at the University of Auckland. "We underestimate the dramatic changes that have occurred in the Mena region," he said. "But we still have a long way to go."

"People should not be discouraged by slow progress," said Dr Lynne Pierson, head of P12 education at Adec.

Prof John said the focus should be on interaction. "Schools are dominated by teachers talking in this region," he said. "We need to look at education through the children's eyes. We need to help students become their own teachers."

Carl Bistany, president of Sabis, a global education management organisation, said the same problem was evident in the training of teachers. "The majority of the teachers still learn from lectures and seminars," he said. "Classes should be more interactive."

Prof Heppel was among several who suggested the key was improving the image of teachers.

"We have to attract talent and have to pay these talents, they are only attracted by money," said Mr Bistany. "We need internationalism, it is absolutely the best thing."

Teachers needed to be trained to teach classes that were more than just engaging, said Prof Heppel.

"Today they are making rockets and interacting with students in schools in other parts of the world, exchanging ideas," he said. "Playfulness is important" but "education needs to be ambitious as well, and it all needs to be global."

As the conference speakers tackled pressing concerns in education in the region, exhibitors vied to demonstrate to school principals, teachers and Adec representatives that their products were best suited to help solve them.

"We all want to take part in the making of the next generation, and there are so many things to offer," said a spokesperson from Promethean, which makes teaching aids for maths, science and technology such as interactive white boards with software in Arabic.

"Kids should not have to compromise their identity for education," he said. "The world is now global and communication is global."

Prof Heppel echoed the call for greater use of technology.

"Kids really need to be trained on how they should use social networks," he said. "It has become a big part of their world, which should be our world too, so we need to ... direct them in the right path."