ABU DHABI // When private operator Taaleem-EdisonLearning was asked to take over a state school in the capital two years ago, the graffiti on the walls and scribbles on the furniture spelt out the tedious task ahead of them.
At the time, teachers at Al Taalea Secondary School in Al Shamkha were grappling with poor attendance, low student attainment and inappropriate pupil behaviour.
"The challenge was to undo years and years of bad habits," said Dr Jan Wilson, director of schools at Taaleem-EdisonLearning (TEL).
"School was boring for the students. Many parents did not see the point of school because they weren't educated themselves," she said.
The company was among nine partners signed on by the Abu Dhabi Education Council since 2006 as part of the Public Private Partnership project to address the shortcomings in government schools.
TEL employed a team of educators from around the world to work with the local teachers and implement a framework that focused on leadership, learning, language and family support.
Progress in achieving their goals was monitored by Adec - every operator was given Key Performance Indicators to be met by the end of the year.
Ernestine Arnold, the leader of the team at the school, said their goal was to improve student achievement, the financial management of the school and raise the level of teaching to reach at least six points on the International English Language Testing System scale.
"We had to identify and fix key areas like the library and subjects that were lacking resources," she said. "To raise the level of English for every person that interacts with the students, we have also started a programme for the students' mothers."
Arabic is given equal importance through its integration into other activities at school.
Taghreed Qteish, an English teacher at the school, said the co-operation with experts had raised efficiency.
"It was only textbooks before and it was such an overload for the students," said Ms Qteish.
"Now, students can express themselves in more ways than just an end-of-year exam."
An area of concern in the past was the detrimental student-teacher relationship, which was now getting better, said Hamda Abdulah bin Safwan, the principal who has seen the school through the bad times.
"When I joined the school, I knew the challenges I would face," she said. "The school lacked organisation but the professional staff backing us has helped considerably."
She said before the support of TEL, the school did not have any professional development for the teachers.
She is worried that when they leave, it might get difficult. "Adec must provide more administrative staff and co-ordinators for each subject to keep the progress going."
Students at the high school are enjoying the hands-on learning as well. Hamda Abdi, a Grade 12 student said she was now a more confident person.
"We were a shy bunch," said the student, who has been undergoing a rigorous language programme and hopes to go on to UAE University. "We are being pushed to achieve and that shows in our Cepa scores as well."
She said teachers explain better and use more technology, which holds their interest.
"Some girls would not even dream of going to university before, but now they are."