Education needs vocational slant

More needs to be done to prepare pupils for work say experts, while the UAE needs to develop a national curriculum.

DUBAI // Low salaries paid to teachers, an over reliance on textbooks and the quality of teaching given to pupils are among the key issues that education experts feel should be addressed in order to improve the education system.

Parents have a lot of choice when it comes to the type of school their children can attend, with 15 different national and international curriculums available, each with their own examinations, accreditations and range of fees.

However, this level of choice can be a double-edged sword and could make it difficult for parents to decide on which school to go for, according to Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar, the managing director at EduEval Educational Consultancy.

“Some high-quality schools are less accessible for some parents,” she said. “It is important – as per the national agenda – that the entire education community work together to support the increase across all schools, because there is a diversity of people that are being served in this education market.”

For Judith Finnemore, a managing consultant at Education Consulting and School Improvement, unqualified teachers who do not know how to motivate children and use outdated methods were a big concern.

“Rote learning is still valued at the expense of ingrained experiential learning,” she said. “There is a complete disconnect between the world of employment and the curriculum of the schools, so the latter think qualifications are the be-all and end-all for employers.”

She said private school owners were often unwilling to invest in the quality of staff because wages were so low and, as a result, teachers did not want to invest in their own ongoing training.

She called for compulsory links with home countries in foreign curriculum schools.

However, there are also numerous positives to the UAE system, with parents having more freedom to select the school with the facilities and approaches they want.

“A private school education in most countries is considered a luxury reserved for a select group only,” said Dr Ben Jaafar. “But in the UAE, the doors of private schools are open for all expatriates and Emiratis.”

She praised the unique diversity in education systems offered in the UAE that is more responsive to the needs of the community.

Ms Finnemore also praised the pupils who she said were a delight to teach in most cases.

“Organisations like the Knowledge and Human Development Authority [KHDA] are transparent and openly available to help schools through the use of conferences, such as What Works, that showcase excellent practises in schools,” she said. “Abu Dhabi Education Council does a little of this, but not at the level of the KHDA.”

The country’s Rulers also recognised the necessity to improve the UAE’s rankings in international tests such as Pisa and Timms.

“The willingness is there. Schools would like them to introduce reforms more slowly, but I can see why they are being demanding – the pupils can’t wait,” said Ms Finnemore.

The UAE must develop a national curriculum that encourages pupils to be more active in their learning and makes classrooms more dynamic, she said.

Dr Ben Jaafar said continued and ongoing assessment of schools was crucial in this process, and with Adec beginning to release school reports like the KHDA it was a step in the right direction.

Both Dr Ben Jaafar and Ms Finnemore agreed that more needed to be done to prepare pupils correctly for the world of work.

“There is no requirement for work experience that might actually define for pupils what they do need from school,” said Ms Finnemore. “Neither is there more than a snippet of vocational training for the less academic.

“I used to have pupils who had spent two weeks stacking the shelves of a supermarket coming back to explain why they were going to work hard so they didn’t have to do a job like that.”

Employers also needed to play more of an active role in the process, she said.

Dr Ben Jaafar agreed, saying that pupils were not aware of how their schooling ties into the wider workforce and there needed to be far more collaboration between education and industry.

nhanif@thenational.ae

Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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