Time to do away with old school blocks

Teachers and school principals across the country, who have long been complaining about the chronic shortage of student facilities for everything from sport activities to IT suites, say new institutions are the only real solution.

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ABU DHABI // For Hamad Badr, 17, and his friends, the deafening roar of revving engines and backfiring exhausts on a lot by their school is normal.

"This is the sporting activity," said the Grade 12 student at the Abu Dhabi School for Secondary Education. "There are no fields, there's just a playground, and the ground is cement. It's better for you not to play." Abdullah Hussein, 16, agreed. "The ground is like the street. There are a lot of injuries. It would be better if they make it grass." Ali al Hosani, 20, a Grade 11 student, said the school's bathrooms were a concern. "They need to fix the bathrooms. The doors don't close. The taps are always open. There is no soap."

Their comments amply illustrate the lack of facilities at public schools. It is a common complaint across the country, and one that the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) hopes to address through its initiative to build new schools. Mohammed al Hammadi, the principal at Al Bayraq, a boys' public school built in 1972, said schools constructed in the 1960s and 1970s were now inappropriate. "The old schools were built at a certain time with certain conditions. They cannot help in the education process without improvements."

While attempts had been made to improve them, he said many simply did not have the space to open custom-built sport halls, science laboratories or libraries with IT facilities. Mr al Hammadi, who is also on Adec's committee that oversees the design of the new schools, added that older institutions were not built with modern teaching techniques in mind. "The old buildings can't take in new ideas, like collective or co-operative learning," he said. Such teaching methods centre on group learning rather than individual pupils being taught in isolation.

"These schools were not built according to these ideas," he said. In order to provide IT suites for his school, which also lacks any sports facilities, Mr al Hammadi ordered three of his classrooms to be refurbished as two labs. "There are solutions, but they're not fundamental. They're temporary," he said. The permanent solution was the replacement of the old schools with new ones, he said. "No matter what you do with the old schools, they will stay old."

Insufficient classroom space was the main issue facing Al Kadisia, a public school for girls in Abu Dhabi, according to a school official who asked not to be named. "The maximum is 30 students per class. If we have more than that we don't admit them into the school," she said Mouza Ali, the principal of Umm Ghafa School in Al Ain, agreed and added that it was a widespread problem. "We suffer from a lack of classrooms. There are areas in Al Ain where there is a large number of students but there aren't enough schools.

"We must look towards the future in terms of school building. There must be enough buildings with enough facilities that provide sport activities, music activities, theatres." However, she said the plans for new schools and facilities were to be welcomed. "In terms of building design and so on, the council is going in a great direction. They're almost magical. We were hoping for this years ago." Sultan al Mutawa, the principal of Zayed the Second School, said his establishment was an example of how modern buildings were better adapted to educational needs.

"Our building is new and it is suitable for the students. We also have outdoor fields which are excellent," he said. The library, he said, was one of the few problem areas. "It needs some minor things that we'll hopefully add. It needs some new reference books and magazines. We have a plan to improve the library this year." David Toghill is the integrated learning co-ordinator at the Al Safa Secondary School in Dubai. His school, built in the late 1980s, falls somewhere between the best and worst.

He said while it did not have an indoor sport hall, students were able to use a public hall next door for physical education. However, he added, the school did have a small library and computer labs, and the science labs were "quite well resourced". kshaheen@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Kathryn Lewis