“We are at the threshold of a new era in which the concept of education, teachers and schools will change.”
Those are the powerful words Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed chose to open the annual Qudwa 2017 Global Teachers' Forum in the capital on Saturday. Held under the theme, “Teaching for Tomorrow,” the two-day convention attracted more than 900 teachers, principals, policymakers and authors from 80 countries to discuss issues at the forefront of global education.
The disruptive force of ever-evolving technology in the 21st Century classroom continued to surface as a critical challenge - and opportunity - for educators.
“Teachers, if they want to keep up with the times, should transform themselves from teachers giving lessons and correcting homework into becoming mentors who engage students into discussions with them and provide them with group activities that help them develop their skills and ways of thinking,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. “Mentoring means that people gain real experiences from real life, and not just from books.”
The role of schools has evolved with the times, Sheikh Abdullah said.
“The goal of the new educational system sweeping the world is not teaching students the theories of Pythagoras or how to calculate a circle’s radius and the periodic table of chemical elements, but to teach them how to think, research and improvise,” said Sheikh Abdullah. “I’ve come to talk to you as a father and to tell you that the world outside the school walls has expanded a great deal, and our children’s world has become bigger than what we can see as parents and as you as teachers and supervisors of the education process. In light of this, let us work together to understand this generation and live up to the modern responsibilities bestowed upon us as mentors of the 21st century.”
Minister of Education, Hussain Al Hammadi, said despite the ongoing pedagogy, technology and curriculum changes in schools, teachers will always play a key role in educating children.
“There has been a lot of talk about the role of educators in the coming years,” said Mr Al Hammadi. “Of course, teachers will always be at the heart of the educational process, but their task and their role is going to change. Technology has to become an intrinsic part of the educational process. We need to leverage the technology and the new developments in the educational system.”
Mr Al Hammadi said the Government continues to invest heavily in professional development and other opportunities for teachers. He noted one of the ministry’s projects offers teachers the chance to attend workshops and conferences to help fulfill the 100 hours of professional development they must obtain annually.
The MoE recently identified nearly 110 schools across the country to serve as “learning schools,” similar to “teaching hospitals” for medical staff, where university students majoring in education in local teachers’ colleges can get hands-on experience. These schools also serve as the testing grounds for new pedagogy, he said.
“We test and validate in these controlled environments,” said Mr Al Hammadi. “These schools will become a hub of knowledge for education.”
The Government has continued to reach out to working and retired professionals as part of its recruitment drive for new teachers. To date, more than 1,000 participants have signed up to teach public school pupils under the ministry’s Teach for UAE campaign.
“These are people with special expertise and skills that can help promote education in the UAE,” said Mr Al Hammadi. “We need to attract not only the teachers in the conventional sense, we also need architects and doctors and we need people with special skills. At the moment under the project, we have 88 architects and engineers that are teaching within the project.”
Hundreds of teachers have been selected for specialized training focused on a number of national education initiatives. These teachers, are known as “ambassadors,” are expected to transmit their knowledge to their school community. Mr Al Hammadi said the program has graduated teachers who serve as the “ambassadors of happiness,” “ambassadors of innovation” and “ambassadors of giving.”
“As we said, teachers are mentors, they are role models and their role is to create a passion for learning and positivity and happiness within the classroom,” said Mr Al Hammadi.
Michael B. Horn, author of "Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools,” said no matter how advanced technology becomes, computers and machines will never be a true substitute for an inspiring, motivating teacher who can mentor, guide, soothe and counsel a student to reach his or her full potential.
“From my perspective, I think teachers become more important than ever as we move into this brave new world,” said Mr Horn.
While technology is good at presenting content, delivering instruction, analyzing data, it fails to fulfill all the needs of a student.
“And this is where teachers really step in as mentors, of facilitators of rich Socratic discussions, facilitators of projects, tutoring in one-on-one or in small groups now that they have time for that,” said Mr Horn. “We’re standing at a historic opportunity where the tools are becoming available to allow teachers to design their classrooms, their learning environments, their schools into fundamentally different experiences that reaches each and every single child and allows them to realize their most daring dreams.”