School reforms to reduce the stress of final exams

All-year assessment of pupils and three terms instead of two to be introduced at Arabic-run schools that follow the Ministry of Education curriculum.

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DUBAI // Thousands of schoolchildren will be continuously assessed in five academic subjects this year in an effort to reduce the stress of final examinations.

The school year will also be spread over three terms instead of two, in changes announced yesterday by the Ministry of Education. Children up to Grade 5 will have no final exams this year, with continuous assessment instead. Pupils in Grades 6 to 9 will have exams along with continuous assessment in Islamic studies, Arabic, English, maths and science.

The reforms will affect all Arabic-run schools that follow the Ministry of Education curriculum. They do not affect international schools, such as those that follow American, British or Indian curricula. Humaid al Qutami, the Minister of Education, said that from Grade 6 upwards the average number of exam days each term would be reduced from nine to five. "This is to help focus on the skills of students and help them become confident with exams," he said. "It is to remove the fear of examinations from children."

The first term of this academic year will run until December 19, the second from January 2 until March 26 and the third from April 3 until July 13. The new format is modelled on the international schools system both in the UAE and overseas. "The three-term system is being implemented as a result of pleas from us in the field," said Sultan al Mutawa, the prinicipal of Zayed al Thani Middle School in Abu Dhabi.

"Last year both terms were very long for teachers, very tiring and boring, which reflects on students as well. It will be good to give us all regular breaks. We will all return every term with a renewed energy." Ayesha Almerri, the director of the ministry's education department, said: "The academic year will be 179 days, which is about the same, give or take a few days, as earlier years."

Ms Almerri added: “There will be training and workshops from next week so teachers and students understand the new system.”

The new guidelines specify that 60 per cent of pupils’ grades will be based on examination results and 40 per cent on projects, quizzes and assessment work.

“Earlier the ratio was 80 per cent on examinations and 20 per cent on assessment,” Ms Almerri said. “More assessments mean students will have continuous learning in a normal school day.”

There will be assessments and no examinations in subjects such as social studies, information technology, art and physical education for Grade 6. They will also include national studies evaluations in Grade 7 and history and geography in Grades 8 and 9. The changes will allow pupils to receive assessment of their work more often, helping them to gauge their progress.

“They have a chance to collect their scores in each term,” Mr al Qutami said. “We want a more interactive atmosphere in class so we know and understand the skills students have absorbed.”

Some academics were unclear yesterday about the proposed break-up between the assessments and examinations. The current academic year would be crucial to the success or failure of the new format, one teacher from Ras al Khaimah said.

“This is the first year to experience applying this system and we will have to see if students accept it or reject it,” the teacher said.

Some education professionals expressed reservations or outright dissent. Abdulla Said, the principal of Balat Ashuhhada middle school, said examinations were necessary as a yardstick to judge pupil development.

“How will they assess the students? How will they know they have understood the lesson?” he asked. “We want to know if the student can write, if it is good or not, if their spelling is good or not.”

Without examinations, teachers needed to be given a uniform method of evaluation and such training could take up to two years, he said.

“This is more work for the teacher and I think this will make more headaches for the family,” the principal said. “We will see now and after that we will decide.”

* with additional reporting by Anna Zacharias