DUBAI // While the high dropout rate in public schools presents an obvious cause for concern, the inspections report suggests an even bigger problem, which is the large number of students, especially males, who are failing end-of-year exams and repeating grades, sometimes for years at a time. It is not "uncommon", the report notes, for inspectors to see 18-year-olds who have failed numerous grades sitting in the same classroom with pupils aged 14 or 15.
This repeated failure, according to the report, leads naturally to students dropping out: "There is a strong correlation between those students who have been held back to repeat grades and early school leavers," it notes. Yousef al Shehhi, the principal of Al Rams Secondary School, a public boys' high school in Ras al Khaimah, agreed that students who have been held back are at serious risk of dropping out altogether.
"They are coming to the secondary school at 20, and their colleagues are 15 or 16 years old, so they will leave the school for this reason sometimes," he said. "In general it is a problem." Mr al Shehhi said others, particularly boys who come from homes where there is not a breadwinner, leave school to support their mothers. "Really the financial thing, the money, is now so much important for these guys," he said.
An American consultant, who has worked in UAE public schools for the past three years, said the practice of holding kids back several years was problematic for other reasons. "When you're putting 14-year-old boys with 18-year-old boys in a high school there are certain problems. It's just not a good mix," he said, adding that younger students could pick up bad habits from their older peers. "Eighteen-year-olds are adults and 14-year-olds are children."
Dr Natasha Ridge, a research fellow at the Dubai School of Government, said more remedial assistance needs to be provided. "There are no remediation classes for boys after they fail," she said. "They need help not constant repetition of grades." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org