Minister hails 'major' reform of education

Restructuring will create new departments with federal control of school licensing and inspection in Dubai and Northern Emirates.

Sharjah, UAE - June 10, 2009 -  H.E Humaid Mohamed Obaid Al Qutami, Minister of Education, (right) speaks with teachers and principals at Sharjah University City. (Nicole Hill / The National) *** Local Caption ***  NH Education03.jpgNH Education03crop.jpgNH Education03crop.jpg
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DUBAI // Education chiefs yesterday announced a plan to restructure the education system that will result in more federal control of schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The Ministry of Education, which initially operated only in the areas of Education Policies and Support Services, will create three new sectors, or divisions. Within the next two months, dedicated divisions of the ministry will also handle Private Education, Education Operations, and Activities and School Environment Policies.

"This is a major restructuring for the ministry," the Minister of Education, Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, said yesterday.

"The new structure will help the ministry to reach the federal government objectives of Vision 2021 and our education strategy for 2010-2020."

The newly-formed Private Education division will oversee areas such as school licensing, inspection and quality assurance in schools.

The second new addition to the ministry, the Activities and School Environment Policies division, will deal with student counselling, health and nutrition, physical education, libraries, buildings and other facilities.

The management of information systems, developing special education programmes, public school supervision and inspection, and professional development will be the responsibility of the third and final new division, Education Operation.

All schools in the Northern Emirates - Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah and Umm al Qaiwain - currently fall under a local education zone that answers to the federal authority.

The ministry's latest move is a radical shift from the policies implemented by the previous Minister of Education, Dr Hanif Hassan. When Dr Hassan took over the ministry in 2006, he pushed for more authoritative powers for the education councils and zones.

He reduced the ministry's scope of operation to two basic areas - developing policies and providing support services to the zones.

In 2005 and 2006, some of the ministry's powers were devolved to separate education bodies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Abu Dhabi's education system was decentralised in 2005 and placed under the administration of the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec). The move effectively made the council the sole regulator and developer of education policies for schools in the capital.

In 2006, the body that oversees Dubai schools, Dubai Education Zone, became the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). At the time, some of the powers of the ministry were shifted to the KHDA as part of the federal Government's strategy to decentralise education.This latest restructuring seems to indicate a shift towards a more centralised strategy. It is not the first such move by the ministry; this month it took back control of public schools from KHDA, and reinstated the Dubai Education Zone in the emirate. 

The ministry is scheduled to announce a further restructuring of the education zones in the Northern Emirates in four weeks' time.

Mr al Qattami said the restructuring of the ministry and zones had come after much deliberation and out of a need to raise the quality of education in all the emirates, while moving towards standardisation.

"The zones will be relevant for the practical application and daily processes in the schools, and we will be responsible for developing policies, implementing them in the zones and ensuring operations are in line with those followed by the ministry," he said.

The need for a centralised education strategy was debated by the FNC in March. They said the initiatives of local authorities in some emirates were hampering education progress in the others. 

The minister did not say if this would mean a restructuring of KHDA and Adec, but stressed: "We will cooperate with all of them."

Elaborating on the role of the new Private Education division, Shaikha al Shamsi, the chief executive for education affairs said: "With the growing number of private schools in the country, a system for continuous quality assurance is important."

The private education sector will be looking into matters of fee regulation and the appointment of teachers.