Dubai school leaders urged to think outside the borders

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of KHDA, said great strides had been taken but Dubai schools again need to up their game to hit demanding National Agenda targets.

Pupils reading at the New Indian Model School in Dubai. One school principal said his focus was to improve reading skills for pupils. Charles Crowell for The National
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DUBAI // Schools should look overseas for inspiration to improve their standards and meet National Agenda targets, a conference has heard.

Authorities from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority on Tuesday met 167 school principals for the second annual Journey to the National Agenda conference.

“In the past few years we’ve worked with Dubai’s private schools to look at teaching and learning practices and identify the actions we must take to improve,” said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the KHDA.

“To improve further, now’s the time to start looking at the practices of schools outside of Dubai.”

Dr Al Karam urged educators to look at how schools operated abroad to help them improve their standards. He said happy pupils were more productive.

“Happier school communities will lead to happier students and improved outcomes, and we believe it is this that will help us to reach the 2021 National Agenda targets,” he said.

Delegates were told that although significant strides had been made in reaching international education standards over the past five years, more is needed to reach the goals set for 2021.

Key targets for the coming year include encouraging schools to use external assessment tests to see the progress they make and give a focus on reading and problem-solving skills.

Dr Al Karam said that the immediate priority for schools was to hit the targets for Programme for International Student Assessments and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests.

“Most if not all schools in the emirate are now onboard with Pisa and Timss assessments and are aware of how important they are as part of the National Agenda,” he said.

He said he hoped progress would be made in improving standards in mathematics, reading comprehension and provision of Arabic for native speakers in the next 12 months.

The National Agenda aims for the UAE to be in the top 15 performing countries in Timss and the top 20 in Pisa by 2021. The UAE is below the international average in both tests.

“Reading is particularly important because by improving it even by a single point can have a knock-on effect and it can increase assessments in international tests in maths by 0.6 per cent, and 0.8 per cent in science,” said David Hicks, principal at Emirates International School in Jumeirah.

During a presentation to delegates Mr Hicks urged schools to focus on their areas of weakness with the Pisa and Timss tests, and use standardised assessments to improve the quality of teaching.

Dr Rabaa Al Sumaiti, the KHDA’s director of International Assessment, said training teachers was crucial to improvement.

“Teachers needed to be provided with the appropriate professional development to allow them to better teach problem solving and critical thinking skills as well as students’ literacy levels,” Dr Al Sumaiti said.

Principals took part in workshops at the conference, where they learnt about the education systems in other countries.

Richard Monterio, principal of the Bilva Indian School in Al Qusais, which opened last year, said his focus in the coming 12 months was to improve reading skills for pupils.

“Our focus is going to be improving the language and reading skills by adding a library and language lab,” Mr Monterio said.

“These targets are demanding but I think if schools put their resources into what will make the best all-round improvements, then that is the way to go.”