DUBAI // When Tabinda al Ghizala walks into the classroom, her students respond with a mixture of respect and affinity. All stand, some rush to shake her hand. Mrs al Ghizala is principal of the Pakistan Education Academy. More than 40 years old, it has been deemed unsatisfactory by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
"The main thing was teaching methods - they think we could improve," said Mrs al Ghizala. She acknowledges the difficulties in uprooting the rote, traditional teaching methods in a school that is a feature of the Pakistani community. That is evident in a social studies class, where the students are asked to copy questions and answers written on the board - three times. "It helps them memorise by heart," their teacher said. The grind eats into the next class - Arabic.
"Our teaching methodology does not match the international level," said Mrs al Ghizala. "We knew that we could not get up to their level because our teachers do not have exposure to those practices. They are not trained as per those regulations and systems," she said. There is little else obviously wrong with the school. The buildings are old, but not ramshackle. The walls and floor are not clean, but neither are they egregiously dirty. The playground is spacious, but unshaded.
The IT lab is lined with computers, the biology lab with animal samples and the physics lab with semiconductors and wires. Yet the school is cash-strapped. The management spent Dh4 million (US$1m) to build a mosque on the premises. A new building to house pupils who performed poorly because they had to go to school in afternoons because of a lack of space cost Dh11m. The school also had to buy a fleet of new buses.
As well as such costs, Mrs al Ghizala estimates that about 50 per cent of parents are late in paying fees, ranging from around Dh500 to Dh2,300 per year. "We find them [the KHDA recommendations] helpful, but difficult," she said. "The majority of our students are from low-income groups. Because of the recession, so many parents are not paying fees. Even if we arrange workshops, it doesn't happen free of cost."
Mrs al Ghizala wants the KHDA to hold teachers' forums that would help to bridge any gulf in quality. "Through knowledge sharing we can benefit," she said. "Our teachers should be given the opportunity to visit those schools that got outstanding or good, and see those practices. That would be helpful." The school would work to implement the KHDA's recommendations, said Mrs al Ghizala. But she added: "The time they have given, three months, is too short."