Transience may be contributing to poor engagement at UAE schools, study shows

Some international schools have high staff and pupil turnover which can contribute to pupils not having a strong relationship with their teachers

Abu Dhabi, UAE - September 10, 2017 - Students of British School of Al Khubairat arrive for their first day of the new year - Navin Khianey for The National
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Pupils in the region are highly satisfied in their ability to learn, but less satisfied with their teachers, general work ethic and curriculum, according to a new study.

A survey of 95,031 international school pupils from ages seven to 16 years studying in the Middle East and Southeast Asia – including 70,277 pupils from 62 private schools in the UAE – sought to measure the pupils’ attitudes toward learning. The assessment, called the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (Pass), is meant to help schools identify pupils who may be struggling with low levels of satisfaction with their education, self-esteem or other issues related to their well-being that could adversely affect their learning.

Results of the survey were released on Wednesday in the Global Perspectives: Pupil Attitudes to Self and School report published by GL Education, which has been administering the assessment in the UK for the past decade.

“It’s like an early warning system for schools,” said James Neill, GL Education’s international director. “What’s becoming more relevant is that people are understanding that if we all focus on well-being first then academic success will follow. The evidence is becoming fairly clear. How students are feeling has a real impact on how they perform.”


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The pupils were asked to rate their level of satisfaction – on a four-point scale, from high satisfaction to low satisfaction – in one of nine areas, including: their feelings about school, perceived learning capability, self-regard, preparedness for learning, attitudes to teachers, general work ethic, confidence in learning, attitudes to attendance and response to curriculum demands.

A majority of pupils – 80 per cent or higher – expressed being highly satisfied across most areas. However, the data helps to identify the small number of outliers who need the most support from their teachers, parents and peers, said Mr Neill.

Almost one in six children – 15 per cent – registered low or low moderate satisfaction in their general work ethic. Fourteen per cent indicated a low or low moderate satisfaction in the attitudes to teachers factor and 16 per cent had a relatively negative response to curriculum demands, according to the report.

Erika Elkady, head of secondary at Jumeirah Baccalaureate School in Dubai, who contributed to the report, summarised the findings: “The message from the data is that our students are saying ‘I know I am capable, and I know how to be a good learner, but learning is hard, and I am not motivated to do or complete the work.’”

Ramon Peñas / The National

“Some international schools, and especially those in transient cities like Dubai and Singapore, face a relatively high staff and student turnover,” Ms Elkady wrote in the report. “This may explain why fewer students in international schools have a highly positive attitude to teachers compared to other Pass factors, as both student and teacher have less time to get to know each other and develop meaningful rewarding relationships.”

The fact that many pupils in the UAE are not native English speakers may also be a factor contributing to their negative perceptions of international curriculums that are taught in English.

Rosemary Elmes, assistant head for standards at Gems Wellington Primary School in Dubai, said the data gained from the Pass assessment helps the school identify the right intervention to put in place for the children who are struggling with self-concept and with difficulty learning.

“We were able to prove that by using the Pass testing and good intervention year on year we have achieved a 50 per cent reduction in those students who are struggling,” said Ms Elmes. “The first year we did it, the Pass test identified 60 students throughout the school whose attitudes were at risk of affecting their attainment, their academic scores. The following year, it went down to 30 because of the interventions we put in place. This year, we’ve done it and we only have 15. The work that we do with the student to support them with their self-concept, their readiness for learning, and all the other areas is having an impact.”