Schools pressed on Islamic studies

Reminder on Ministry of Education standards is directed mainly at private schools as Dubai prepares for its second round of inspections.

United Arab Emirates -Dubai- March 23, 2009:

NEWS: Seventh grade student Zanzan Ahmed, 15, practices Arabic at the National Charity Schools in Dubai on Tuesday, March 24, 2009.  Amy Leang/The National  
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As Dubai gears up for its second round of school inspections, private schools have been warned to improve the quality of their classes in Islamic studies. The first-ever school inspections in the Emirates, conducted in Dubai last year, found serious deficiencies in the teaching of Islamic studies and Arabic at local private schools.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the government agency that oversees Dubai schools, said at the weekend that this area must be especially addressed. UAE law requires that all private schools teach Islamic studies and Arabic. Inspectors found the quality of Arabic and Islamic studies instruction to be unsatisfactory at one in five private schools. Because state schools are essentially closed to expatriates, the vast majority of UAE pupils attend private ones.

Emirati parents, who have the option of sending their children to state schools free of cost, are increasingly opting for private ones, which outperform state schools; half of Dubai's school-age Emirati population is in private schools. For Emirati and other Arab parents, the retention of Arabic-language skills is a priority. "Most private schools give too low priority to these subjects," the inspection bureau noted in its annual report. One in 10 schools were found not to be complying with Ministry of Education requirements for the amount of time that schools must spend teaching the subjects.

Inspectors determined that British and American schools placed little emphasis on students' progress and attainment in Islamic studies. "The progress many students make is limited by poor teaching, which relies too much on a very narrow range of teaching methods, which are highly dependent on textbooks," the report noted. All teachers of Islamic studies and Arabic must be approved by the federal Ministry of Education before they can teach in private schools, but school administrators say that finding good Arabic and Islamic studies teachers is difficult.

In general, the problem lies in the teaching skills of the teachers, not their expertise in the subjects. "Unfortunately, there seem to be few Arabic Islamic teachers around with internationally recognised qualifications," said Clive Pierrepont, director of communications and marketing at Taaleem, the second largest private school operator in the country. Peter Daly, head teacher at Dubai English Speaking College, said he struggled to find properly qualified teachers in Islamic studies and Arabic when he was recruiting for the 2008-09 school year.

"Most of them would have gained their degree from a GCC university, so probably their proficiency in their language is good, but they lack the ability to convey the subject." While the teachers working at the college had Ministry of Education approval to teach Islamic studies and Arabic, none had the level of training that British teachers in the college have, he said. "It's not their fault that they have not received the training that all the other teachers in my school have got. It takes 22 months in the UK to train to be a teacher. They have the university qualification but not a teaching qualification, which gives them the skills to teach in a school such as this."

Mirza Ghalib, principal of the Central School in Dubai, complained of the same situation. "In the boys' section, we have qualified teachers to teach Arabic, and their major is Arabic," Mr Ghalib said. "But on the ladies' side, it is a bit difficult. We are getting Arabic teachers approved by the Ministry of Education, but there are some teachers who studied some different subjects." Dolly Goriawala, principal of the Star International School-Al Twar, which ranked "unsatisfactory" last year, said her school had made major changes in the way it teaches the two subjects in light of the KHDA inspections.

"We do Arabic now with role play," Mrs Goriawala said, adding that the school's Arabic and Islamic studies staff have gone through significant professional development training since the first inspection.