Teachers first, pupils second. Dr Ian Haslam, vice chancellor of the Emirates College of Advanced Education, says that training a new generation of teachers to meet international standards and to increase their fluency in English and Arabic will be an "adventurous project". But if it works, he says the adventure will pay off five years hence with improved maths and languages scores for the teachers' young charges.
"As teachers get better trained, it will be reflected in success levels by the pupils," says Dr Haslam. "Abu Dhabi Education Council's aim is to see this change in 10 years, but it will really start gaining momentum over the next eight." There were 10,649 teachers in 305 state schools last year. Most of them hit the classroom armed only with a bachelor's degree and have had no further professional development as their careers progressed.
Last year the education council, familiarly known as Adec, took over hiring teachers. It required that they be certified and assigned ECAE to train would-be and on-the-job teachers. It is hoped the college would eventually train teachers from other emirates as well. "In time, our facilities will be for people who already have a degree, who want to learn to teach and for those teaching to become better teachers," said Dr Haslam.
Mohammed al Hammadi, principal at Al Bayraq boys' public school in Al Ain, said most of his teachers badly needed the training. The school's attempts to hold IT workshops and cultural classes for non-Emirati teachers are not enough, he said. "I would prefer to have three or four teachers absent if it meant that they would be trained." he said. "In the long run for the school and the children, this is much better."
Training increases teacher morale in addition to benefiting students, said Samira Ahmed Sultan al Hammadi, 31, a geology instructor at the Mafraq Secondary School for girls. In the 10 years she has been teaching, any extra training, including workshops to increase student participation, has been organised by her school. "They teach us different techniques to make the classes more interesting for students, so that they don't sit in class for an hour, fist in cheek, staring blankly as I write on the board," Mrs al Hammadi said.
Khawla Abdulrahman al Mulla, principal at Al Noof High School in Sharjah, said career development needs to be available to all staff, from new teachers to administrators. She also suggested conducting a survey of working teachers. "The main thing they have to do is to diagnose the needs of the teachers and schools," she said. "Most training comes from the ministry without checking the needs first."
Emirates College of Advanced Education is the only institute in the Emirates that exclusively provides teacher training. It has provided training to 600 mostly female Emirati teachers since its establishment in 2007. Instruction is free for Emiratis, and in the autumn, the college will begin accepting expatriate teachers for a fee. In addition to its work with Adec, the college has a partnership with the Institute of Education, a branch of the University of London, to train more teachers and principals. The institution, hopes to take on joint research, consultancy and training for teaching professionals throughout the Emirates.
"We will be offering subjects which are not available in the UAE, such as educational psychology, so it will complement what is going on, but ultimately complementing Abu Dhabi's development," said Mike Winter, the institute's director of international affairs. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Nadia El Dasher