A hands-on learning programme at a Ras Al Khaimah school is helping troubled pupils improve their behaviour and appreciate the value of continuing their education.
Saeed bin Jubair Secondary School turned to the Hands on Learning programme, which offers vocational training, to reduce the number of boys dropping out of school.
The forward-thinking approach was adopted in 2014 in partnership with the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, a body set up by the emirate’s government to aid social and economic development in a variety of fields.
About 20 pupils in need of extra support at the all-boys school take part in the programme every year.
“Pupils at the school needed re-engagement back into education,” said John Kennedy, technical education instructor at the foundation.
“We see the benefits of the programme in their personal life and at school.
“Pupils would not turn up on time and they may be abusive to teachers, misbehave within the school or damage school property.
“These are the issues the school was having four years ago.
“Some of the pupils would leave the school within an hour.
“Vocational training has helped them as the majority of these children are more practical and enjoy hands-on learning.”
Minister of Education Hussain Al Hammadi spoke out about bad behaviour in the classroom in May of last year after a video was widely shared on social media of children dancing and singing in a classroom, jumping on desks and clapping while their teacher looked on.
High dropout rates, particularly for boys, have long been a concern.
It was found that in Ras Al Khaimah between 2006 and 2007 – the last year for which figures are available – 14 per cent of boys had dropped out of school compared to 2.5 per cent of girls.
The Hands On Learning programme is based on an Australian initiative that started in 1999.
Teachers select children with behavioural issues to take part in the programme for one day of the school week.
Children are taught carpentry, welding, cooking, construction, painting, financial literacy and also travel to prisons and museums to broaden their experiences.
A survey of pupils involved in the programme carried out last year showed that it is delivering results.
In the most recent term, no pupil left the government school before finishing his studies.
Every child polled said he was now concentrating fully during lessons, compared to 60 per cent the year prior.
Now, 83 per cent of children in the programme believe education is crucial for success compared to only 33 per cent in 2016.
Mr Kennedy said pupils took greater pride in their studies, and helped to decorate the school in honour of the Special Oympics World Games held in Abu Dhabi this year.
The foundation also sponsors two children each year to travel to Britain for three weeks to improve their English skills and be exposed to a different culture while living with a family.
Azza Alshehhi, principal at the school, said the annual trip “is a great chance for pupils as they will be staying with another family and they will learn to be responsible”.
“Not one of our pupils want to be absent from school now,” she said.
She encouraged other schools to try similar programmes.
“It affects the pupil’s personality, their attendance in school, and their academic performance in class.
“Some of the pupils used to always be absent but after being in the programme they became very confident.
“Some of them were ill-behaved but now we can see the change in pupils’ attitude and attendance. They are very co-operative, mature and confident.
“When I ask them to do something they definitely do it. Earlier, they used to come and go and had no respect for anyone.
“Now, all the pupils help one another out and they have also improved their academic performance.”
Ahmed Al Shehhi, a 16-year-old Emirati pupil in Grade 10 who is on the programme, said it had been of great use.
“I had behavioural issues earlier in dealing with colleagues and teachers but my conduct has improved since I joined the class,” he said.
“I am nervous about travelling to the UK the for the first time and want to learn about their culture, food and lifestyle.”
Grade 10 pupil Mohammed Al Humaidi, 17, said the programme had helped him become responsible and independent.
Ahmed Al Ghafry, 18, is also grateful for the initiative.
“The programme has helped build my personality,” he said.
“I would get in a lot of trouble earlier but I try to avoid these situations now.
“I am excited to travel to the UK and want to learn English and compare the similarities as well as differences in the UAE and the UK.”