Curriculum changes and ‘Google Translate’ textbooks test UAE’s best and brightest pupils

Changes to public curriculums made top pupils toil for it.

Rawan Ismat, of Al Shola School in Sharjah, who scored first in the general stream, before getting her Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Mother of the Nation award in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // Switching subjects, three exams a day and textbooks that “read like Google Translate” – public pupils say it was a tricky year amid changes to the curriculum.

But from it emerged some of the brightest and best, who have been honoured by the country’s leaders.

As the Ministry of Education and the Abu Dhabi Education Council pressed on with the overhaul of the public school curriculum, pupils say they had to double their efforts to stay on track for academic success.

Sharjah pupil Layla Khanfar, 17, earned 99.8 per cent – the second highest in the country for the advanced stream.

“It was hard,” Layle said. “Every other day you have this new rule, every other day you have this new book, this new subject, all of a sudden.”

The start of the year was challenging, said Rawda Al Awadi, 18, a Western Region pupil who earned 99.8 per cent in her Grade 12 examinations under the council’s curriculum.

“At the beginning of the year we faced many problems,” Rawda said. “The curriculum changed many times.

“We would study something and then they’d say to us, ‘No, it’s finished and we will not have an exam on this subject’.

“But in the second term, these problems were solved.”

The ministry replaced all textbooks in all years. Some were delivered late in the semester, which the council blamed for poor performances in first-term tests. Others had inaccuracies.

“It’s as if you’ve given the book into Google Translate and cut it out,” Layla said.

The pupils’ complaints echo those heard by members of the Federal National Council from parents frustrated with the state of the public school system as it undergoes continuous reform.

A recent research paper published by the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research found that public school pupils were being over-tested.

“We have exams daily, like maybe two to three exams daily,” said Layla.

On the upside, the Jordanian said, the rigorous testing might help pupils to overcome their fear of tests.

“Having too many exams throughout the year, you have to stick to not being nervous,” Layla said.

Sharjah pupil Rawan Ghazal, 17, who earned the highest score in the general stream with a mark of 99.4 per cent, said the curriculum changes forced her to improve her studying and time management.

“I think it was challenging,” Rawan said. “We had to work hard and study very well. When I saw all the changes I just relaxed and said I should study well and organise my time, and whatever happens, it’s OK.”

Layla said she also maintained a positive outlook throughout the year and did the best she could under the circumstances.

Their hard work paid off and they were personally honoured last week by the country’s Rulers last week, and education officials on Saturday.

The event held at Mubarak bin Mohammed School in Abu Dhabi was attended by Hussain Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, Abu Dhabi Education Council director general Dr Ali Al Nuaimi, and Dr Maitha Al Shamsi, Minister of State.

“I would like to encourage all the students to work really hard and always put the vision of our leaders here in the UAE first, to lead our country to become the best country in the world,” Dr Al Shamsi said.

The pupils will also be celebrated on Monday night at the Best Achievers Awards Ceremony at Emirates Palace hotel, hosted by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.