Curriculum Reform In The Uae Education Essay

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Abstract

This paper aims to look closer at the UAE education system and how curriculum in general and English in particular has encountered different changes across the history of education since the announcement of the UAE Union in 1971. A thorough investigation as well as documents trace will be listed and addressed. It was really a risky mission for the writer to tackle such a topic and investigate due to the lack of resources and published research papers. However, he felt it was such a good chance to follow the education reform and list down what he came across right from the beginning of initiating the Ministry of Education up till the declaration of the new trends of some Emirates Education Councils. Throughout the whole process of the education reform, K to 12 programs, the education system has been seeking to ensure that UAE students are fully prepared to join worldwide universities and compete in the global marketplace. All the education reform process has been targeted to rain the education standards in the country so some of the world's best universities are creating programs in the UAE, attracting talented students in the Arab world and globally. The main focus is to have an independent learner and a global education which enables UAE secondary schools graduate students to join international schools and colleges without any prerequisites. The researcher did everything possible to clarify the aims behind the process of the education reform and up to his knowledge all the information are up to date.

Introduction

Education is considered to be the key to many positive changes anywhere, it elevates countries and people to a high states regardless their backgrounds, color, nationalities, language and or religion. Countries from time to time look back at their practices and education system to evaluate for reforming, empowering and redirect them.

The UAE as a growing country with a small population, has experienced different assays through importing intact education systems from the Arab world or partial successful ones from all over the world. All these education reforms witnessed numerous trial and error endeavors wondering which one could bring a magic cane that could revolutionize the whole education system and bring life and stability to it. Of course all these attempts occurred across the history of the official education system which goes back the 70s of the previous century.

The county has tried a unified education system leads by the Ministry of Education ( MoE) for 30 years which established a systematic education but some emirates think that it is time for them to try an individual tries which could release the load off the MoE and experiment a different methods that could be standardized across the whole county.

Historical background

The United Arab Emirates comprises seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajrnan, AI Fujairah, Um Elquin and Ras El Kheima. The Federation came into effect in December 1971. Before that, the seven emirates were ruled independently. The Constitution issued in July 1971 interprets the nature of the political and administrative system, as well as the distribution of authority between the judiciary, legislative and executive bodies.

Looking back at the history of the formal education in the UAE we can see that it is relatively new. In the year 1952, there were only few formal schools in the country. Between the year 1960s and 1970s a school building program revolution was announced by expanding the education system and having a formal shape of education in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In a document published by the UAE Embassy in USA, it is stated that nowadays education at cycle one, cycle two and cycle three is universal. In 2006-2007, approximately 650,000 students were enrolled at 1,256 public and private schools. About 60 percent of all students attend public schools.

The same document also mentioned that, education reform focuses on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. In addition, rote instruction is being replaced with more interactive forms of learning, and English-language education is being integrated into other subjects, such as math and science. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHSA) and the UAE Ministry of Education are each tasked with education reform, while preserving local traditions, principles and the cultural identity of the UAE.

UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan established ADEC in 2005 to develop education throughout the emirate of Abu Dhabi UAE. ADEC takes an entrepreneurial approach to involve the private sector, improve and modernize facilities, reduce bureaucracy, update curricula and take advantage of information technology.

Successively, the emirate of Dubai declared the establishment of KHSA seeks to meet global standards, focusing on international accreditation and comprehensive quality assurance programs. A recent initiative is designed to attract world-class international primary and secondary schools to Dubai.

The Ministry of Education develops and monitors reform activities, with a focus on standards-based, student-centered education. These efforts include a partnership with National Association of Elementary School Principals in the United States. Activities include:

Audits of every public school in the UAE

Evaluations of the system, from individual schools up through the Ministry

Ongoing professional development of teachers and principals

The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR) is responsible for planning higher education and research in UAE, as well as for licensing and supervising private higher education institutions. MHESR also implements the policies of higher education approved by the Cabinet. Both government and private higher education institutions are operating in UAE.

The scale of higher education institutions is not large, and a close supervision is followed by (MHESR). Accordingly, the results in general are quite satisfactory.

By the year 2008, a new strategy for education has been adopted. Within the next 20 years, the strategy will address all the obstacles of education, reshape the education system and try to ensure that the output of the education process suits the needs of globalization. Equally, training systems and policies have been reviewed by the concerned parties. Excellence, creativity, re-engineering, total quality management and similar concepts have been introduced in the training programs. Competition between organizations (both public and private) for quality awards has been introduced. Special attention is also being given to preparatory training programs for university and school lawyers in order to qualify for organizations' new intake. Moreover, to ensure the adoption of information technology, the General Information Authority has been established. The GIA is responsible for facilitating the introduction of information technology in the government organizations by giving advice and training employees.

Challenges to Curriculum Development in the UAE

Samar Farah and Natasha Ridge stated in their Policy Brief No. 16 December 2009 Curriculum Development Activities in the Ministry of Education. In the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Curriculum Department has a threefold role.3 First, the Ministry is charged with providing "modern curriculum" in line with the second goal of the MOE 2008 - 2010 Strategic Plan, the details of which are not prescribed.4 Second, it reviews and approves textbook manuscripts every five years, which then become key resources for teachers in the classroom. Finally, it is responsible for the preparation and oversight of assessment and examinations. Unlike in the majority of OECD countries, there is no overarching curriculum document for the UAE which outlines the curriculum

goals, standards or content in its entirety. This document typically outlines the content and performance levels desired for students in each grade and subject.5 While subject syllabi exist

in the UAE, these are not used by teachers and are not readily available in schools. The mandate to provide a "modern curriculum" has resulted most recently in the 2007 launch of the Madares Al Ghad (Schools of Tomorrow). In specially selected schools, new English medium textbooks for English, science and math have been introduced in order to both improve students' levels of English and to change the way in which these subjects are taught and understood.

Moreover, despite the introduction of more student-centered materials and textbooks in the schools in 2009, the lack of corresponding reforms in assessment mechanisms has meant that teachers often

return to the old teacher-centered, textbook driven ways of teaching. Textbook revision and approval is a five-year process undertaken by the MOE. To date the most noticeable changes have been the English language textbooks for primary students, in which the old UAE-produced texts were replaced with UAE Parade, which is an adaptation of the well known Table 1: Curriculum within the UAE Context Type of Curriculum Description Ministry of Education 2008-2010 Strategic Plan common national examinations subject syllabi school textbooks (revised on a five-year basis by educational consultants and scholars in local universities) student workbooks (laying out standards, activities, strategies, expected outcomes and tools for teaching and assessment) How teachers teach What teachers teach - how content is presented - materials or pedagogical approaches used What students learn, based on: - results of end of year examinations (MOE) - Trends in International and Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Intended,

Implemented and Attained series New Parade. These texts embrace the communicative approach and come with a substantive teacher's guide, cassettes and other resources to help students learn English in an interactive and enjoyable way. Finally, the curriculum departments responsible for assessment. While this should create a natural synergy, whereby changes in textbooks (intended curriculum) lead to changes in teaching styles (implemented curriculum) and examinations (attained curriculum), this has not been the case. Examinations have retained a heavy focus on textbook memorization, and therefore discourage teachers from embracing new student centered approaches to teaching. Other Influences on Curriculum Development Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research Typically, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR) would have little to no role in curriculum development at the school level. However, in 2007 the MOHESR introduced the Common Educational Proficiency Assessment (CEPA) for English in order to determine which students would be required to take a foundation year (or two) to strengthen their English language skills before entering the public universities, all of which conduct instruction in English. The initial year saw a number of problems, including the poor preparation of teachers for the exam and a mismatch between the exam content and the content of the textbooks. In order to address this dilemma, the Grade 12 English curriculum has since been modified to better reflect the topics covered in the CEPA exam. The CEPA was subsequently also launched for Math, and in 2009 it was introduced for Arabic. It will therefore continue to have some impact on what students learn in these subjects in Grade 12, as it is compulsory for those who wish to enter one of the three public higher education institutions in the UAE (UAE University, The Higher Colleges of Technology, and Zayed University) to pass the exam.

Abu Dhabi Education Council Since the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) in 2005, it has been at the forefront of curriculum development in the UAE. Most recently it has developed a new curriculum based on outcomes, or standards, rather than textbooks, in consultation with an arm of the New South Wales Government, Australia. This English medium curriculum in Abu Dhabi has been developed for Science, IT, and Health and Physical Education for grades K-9, for English for grades K-12, and for Math for grades K-10. As in the Madares Al Ghad, the focus of the new curriculum is to improve the English language skills of the students so that they avoid a time-consuming foundation year upon entry into university. However, it is more comprehensive as it involves a new standards-based curriculum which is taught by a large number of native English-speaking teachers. The new ADEC curriculum is an important move away from dependence on the textbook as the sole transmitter of curriculum content. It places more emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving skills rather than memorization. At this stage, the curriculum is being tested in the Model schools and Public Private Partnership (PPP) schools.8 If successful, the new curricula might eventually be implemented in all government schools in the Emirate and eventually in all government schools across the country.

Challenges and Recommendations

While the development of the new standards based curriculum in Abu Dhabi is an important step forward in improving the curriculum in the UAE, there are still many issues that have not been addressed. The main challenges that lie ahead include transforming the attitudes and approaches of teachers, expanding the scope of the curriculum content, and designing appropriate assessment strategies. Finally, local capacity must be expanded in order to ensure sustainability and suitability in curriculum reform. Transforming Teaching To ensure the successful implementation of the new curriculum, a radically different mindset and approach is required. Moving away from a textbook-driven curriculum to one in which teachers need to plan what and how they will teach, drawing from a variety of sources, will entail retraining teachers on the fundamentals of teaching. The type of training required will need to extend beyond pedagogical expertise - the transmission of knowledge - to incorporate reflective dimensions, enabling teachers to independently develop instructional materials. This will require more intensive training and better follow-up than currently exists. The Ministry of Education structure incorporates supervisors for every subject whose role is to visit teachers and observe lessons to assess the quality of teaching. Currently, the role of the supervisor is marginal as principals can choose their supervisors; that is, they can select those who will be most amenable to giving a good report. If the role of the supervisor was strengthened and improved, this would likely have a positive impact on student learning. In their study of Cuba's education system, Carnoy et al. (2007) found that supervision and mentoring played a critical role in ensuring quality of teaching, if used effectively. The UAE should be no different. Unfortunately, many teachers are unlikely to

substantially change their behavior unless they are provided with incentives to do so. The current system does not reward student centered teaching, and this is unlikely to change unless there is an insistence upon a change in teacher styles. Expanding Curriculum Content The Ministry of Education's recent announcement of an overhaul of the physical education curriculum to provide more instruction hours, as well as better facilities, is a great step in the direction of expanding the scope of school content.10 However, more positive steps need to be taken with regard to other subjects such as art and music, both of which have not been given enough importance in the national curriculum so far. According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's (KHDA) Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, music is not offered after Grade 6, and art is not offered after Grade 9, except to a few students who choose to pursue them as extracurricular activities.11 Theories of cognition suggest that experiences in the arts (visual arts, music, theater and dance) create capabilities or motivations that show up in non-arts capabilities. In a cross-country comparison of the subjects and respective instruction time offered in grades 7-9, it is noticeable that the UAE places a greater emphasis on math and language education than the OECD countries, including the top two scoring countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) - Finland and Korea.13 Benavot (2006) argues that this trend is prevalent in most countries across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, whereas the OECD countries allocate relatively more time to aesthetic and physical education.14 Despite the heavy time allocation to these subjects in the UAE, students remain weak in math (see Dubai's results in the 2007 TIMSS) and poor in English, indicating that simply having more hours in a subject is not enough to see test score gains. Another neglected content area in the UAE is Information and Computer Technology (ICT). Currently this comprises a single subject in which students learn outdated computing skills, often on obsolete machines. In Finland, however, technology is no longer offered as in 4 Table 2: Percentage of Instruction Time by Subject in Grades 7-9

Native Language, Math, Science, Social Studies, Foreign language, Technology, Arts, Music, Physical Education, Religion, Vocational skills, Other Electives Source: Eduardo Andere, "Comprehensive Education Outside the United States," Why We're Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students But We Don't (Common Core, 2009). individual subject in the curriculum. Instead, the government has successfully integrated ICT across the national curriculum, creating a "digital learning" environment. This initiative is currently being replicated across the world.15 To achieve similarly effective change in the UAE would require teachers to receive further training on the use of ICT for instructional purposes, as well as a change in the ICT syllabus, which is currently not practical or relevant to real-life demands. Overall, the UAE curriculum is narrow and covers fewer subjects and subject areas than the best performing countries in the world. UAE schools fail to offer vocational skills training or any elective subjects - such as home economics, environmental science or business studies. The UAE could also benefit from diversifying its secondary level curricular offerings and lengthening its school week. Currently, it is estimated that UAE schools have approximately 22.5 hours of instruction per week, in comparison to the international average of 27 hours per week.16 Extending the school day would enable the broadening of the curriculum. Assessment Strategies

To encourage independent thinking and improve problem solving skills, students need to be assessed on how they apply learned skills to new situations. This is lacking in the existing examination and assessment structures, also known as the attained curriculum. Exams currently require students

to provide only limited responses and do not present students' weaknesses clearly, leaving them with incomplete feedback on their progress. Reforms need to be carried out at the national level to ensure more systematic and rigorous assessment. The current decentralized approach to examinations,

in which the MOE office in each emirate develops its own examinations, with the exception of grade 12, is problematic due to the small size of the public school system. Rather, the creation of a single examination system for all end-of-year exams would assist the MOE in comparing academic

achievement in schools across emirates to determine which schools are performing well and which are not. This, in turn, would enable schools to implement tracking processes for the progress of students, whereby teachers could identify where students are falling behind and how they can work together to help the students to improve their work. Creating Sustainable and Suitable Curriculum Reform Processes The final challenge that lies ahead for the UAE is one that holds larger political and economic consequences for the country. It is the challenge of creating a national body that is able to develop and revise the national curriculum. This body needs to be comprised of local experts who are able to produce and review proposed curriculum changes. The Ministry of Education and the Abu Dhabi Education Council have both relied heavily on foreign expertise to spearhead their curriculum development initiatives. Though it is easy in the short term to import consultants who tend to be more experienced in the field, such a situation is unsustainable in the long term, as it leaves Emirati nationals and experts excluded from the process and, consequently, without the necessary skills to develop curricula. Through decreasing its reliance on external expertise and providing better education and training for nationals and home grown experts, the UAE has an opportunity to build local capacity for developing curriculum. This process needs to begin with the UAE being more cautious when "borrowing" curricula reforms from abroad. So far the UAE has depended heavily on expertise from the United States and Australia, from which it imports the majority of its curriculum. However, both countries are relatively weak performers in the TIMSS and PISA assessments. In fact, US students lag behind Finland by roughly two full grades in math and science. Therefore, in the pursuit of a better, more encompassing curriculum the UAE may need to explore the possibility of learning from the experiences of other countries, such as the top-scoring PISA and TIMSS performers, Korea and Finland. Concerns about loss of national identity are also an important reason why the UAE requires its own curriculum authority. Nowhere is national identity more clearly defined than through the public school curriculum. External consultants cannot fully understand the needs of the nation, its vision, its goals, and its moral foundations. This is illustrated in recent concerns that have been raised about the shift to using English as a medium of instruction in the Madares Al Ghad Schools, whereby parents and Federal National Council (FNC) members have expressed fears over a decline in children's command of Arabic.18 Many also felt resentful of a foreign language and a foreign curriculum being imposed upon Emirati children. If there was more local involvement in curriculum development, many of these problems could be diminished or mitigated. Conclusion It is undeniable that providing the appropriate curriculum in schools is essential to creating a generation of innovative and skilled citizens. To that end, the curriculum must be conceptualized in holistic terms as more than just what should be taught but also as how it is being taught and assessed. Without a comprehensive approach, curriculum development will continue to be understood solely in terms of textbook development. If a wider view of curriculum is embraced, fundamental issues such as offering

constructive teacher training, expanding the scope of curriculum content, implementing effective evaluation strategies and investing in long-term local capacity to develop curriculum would undoubtedly bring lasting and meaningful change to the educational system in the UAE.

To

Tel: 971-4-329-3290

Fax: 971-4-329-3291References

Assaad, R. et al. (2000) "The Effect of Child Work on School Enrollment in Egypt", Economic Research Forum (ERF), Working Paper Series 0111, Cairo, Egypt.

Christopher, J. (1997) "Is High School Employment Consumption or Investment?", Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 735-76.

Coleman, J. (1984) "The Transition from School to Work.", Research in Stratification and Mobility 3:27-59.

Farnsworth, M. (2003) "Equal Opportunity and Youth Employment", International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Working Paper

Globalization, education and Emiratisation: A study of the United Arab Emirates

INTEGRATION BETWEEN SCHOOL SUBJECTS Content selection, Evaluation and organization Dubai/U.A.E, 28-31 March 2004

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