Sumera B Reshi
In a speech at the 2015 World Government Summit in Dubai, Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi emphasized that “Our best bet at this period of time…is to invest all our resources in education.” At the conclusion proceedings of the Mohammad Bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations on 8th March 2017, he further said that “We have no choice but to rely on quality. Our weapon is knowledge.”
Undoubtedly, men of wisdom consider education as the key to the future, and investing in it is highly valuable and rewarding because education leads to change. In today’s world, wealth no longer refers to material assets because knowledge has become wealthy in the context of the knowledge-based economy.
Studies reveal that education is the major contributor to the gross national income (GNI) of countries, compared to other elements of the production process, such as capital, labor etc.
In the technology sector, the world will witness colossal technological changes in coming years. Our planet will undergo a transformational process at the economic, military and security fronts. This change will especially be evident in terms of Artificial Intelligence which indeed is a phenomenal evolution and education is certainly the way to achieve such transformations and teach us to cope with its consequences.
But then the question arises is the educational system in the UAE prepared to deal with technological challenges in near future, is it able to inculcate scientific temper amongst the students and is the educational system at par with international standards and what is the fate of the leading and foremost pillar of education- the teachers? Let us find out the educational system /sector in the world’s richest nation – United Arab Emirates.
There is no doubt that the UAE has made a lot of progress towards meeting the 2015 goals set out by UNESCO’s Education For All Movement, but quality has been the greatest challenge according to the statistics.
UAE has high literacy rates and high numbers of enrolment in primary education and secondary education. The country also has a good higher-education system, yet its quality is contested. The students in UAE scored below average in Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) in 2012 and was ranked 48th in maths, 44th in reading and 46th in science out of 65 participating Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.
In the last round of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss), the UAE also placed below average. The UNESCO Education for All Movement was launched in 2000 and challenged member countries to meet six main goals by 2015.
Despite the heavy investments in the educational sector, Pisa and Timss results indicate that the UAE is not faring very high. But why are the result so appalling when the UAE has invested heavily in educational sector? Basically, the lacunae are in the educational set up.
Moreover, in 2006, a regulatory body was introduced for academic institutions in Dubai. Called the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), its main goal was to develop the city’s education sector and bring it on par with international standards and best practices. KHDA comprises of a group of inspectors who visit schools annually and rate them on four levels – Outstanding, Good, Acceptable and Unsatisfactory.
On the basis of KHDA’s recommendations, schools are allowed to hike fee. The ones with ‘outstanding’ ranking can hike a six per cent increase and those ranked ‘good’ can increase 4.5 per cent.
This is a very hectic and a testing time for the teachers. The moment Educational Councils in all seven regions of the UAE announce inspections, that is the day when the actual nightmare begins. The inspection is the test for teachers. Majority of the schools, national or international carry out mock inspection drills to make sure all goes well according to the plan or to cross-check whether they go by what the inspectors demand.
One teacher inspects another one and the exercise goes on for several days before the actual events take place. The schools here justify the exercise that they try to iron out the lacuna and fix loopholes. After all, they have to appear immaculate before the inspectors from Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) or KHDA in Dubai. In Abu Dhabi, ADEC has become a severe headache for the teachers.
The change is the law of nature. But it is beyond one’s comprehension why such superficial and cosmetic change happen only during school inspections. Fatima Belrehif, acting director of Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) said to XPRESS news that she is aware of the fact the schools go for mock inspections but she added she doesn’t believe that preparations are deceptive. “Our inspectors are trained to see through any “quick fixes”, she said.
Whether Ms Belrehif accepts that reality or not but cosmetic changes are a routine in schools in the UAE. For instance, a school borrowed a maths teacher from Sharjah because its own teacher didn’t meet the criteria. To exemplify another case, in one of the schools in Abu Dhabi, many teachers were asked to quit the job without serving any notice period.
They were asked to write and sign a resignation letter even though they wanted to stay with the school. When the teachers enquired, the school authorities said that they (teachers) don’t meet the criteria set by Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC). The rules set by ADEC are that a teacher has to be a subject specialist with a bachelors in education and at least four years of teaching experience in their home countries or in the UAE.
A teacher who had masters in commerce was teaching mathematics to grade 9 and 10th in the said schools, however, when the inspection team was about to inspect the school, the teacher was sacked without any prior notice. She was fuming and fretting and very disturbed with the move by the school. “If I was fit then why not now? What should I do now? I lost other opportunities because the school assured be a safe stay in the school and now they are saying I don’t meet the criteria,” said the teacher on the conditions of anonymity.
Moreover, the inspections have turned the teachers into raging balls of stress. On the conditions of anonymity, one of the teachers said that “I have two little daughters and I worked from 7.00 am until 3.30 pm in a school and when I come home I have extra baggage from my school to work in the home. Like my kids, I do the homework and in between school and home, I am sandwiched and very tired,” she sighed deeply.
She further added, “People back home are often jealous of me because I live and work in the UAE. I earn in dirhams but nobody knows how much of blood I burn to earn a living.”
Another teacher expressed her view to XPRESS News as, “There was a stay-back every day and we were even called on weekends. By the time I used to come home I was too tired to even cook. For one week we ordered food from outside. For all our troubles we get just Dh3, 000 per month. It’s not worth it. I want to quit.”
Even the students are overburden by the school. Besides homework, classwork and assignments, they have to prepare skits and dancing items for morning assemblies. Every week, assembly themes change, thus changes the attire of the students who perform at the assembly. This extra burden is a nightmare for the students as well.
Time and again it has been said that the teacher is the most important factor in the success of any educational development process. To take the educational system forward, we need to have modern teachers who possess the necessary tools to cope with growing demands in the field of education, else the educational system will collapse.
Experts in the educational sector believe that the need is to adopt programmes and policies regarding teacher training at different educational stages but it that sufficient. What about teachers, shouldn’t the policy makers look at their demands and plight as well? Yes, they should. Teachers are the main actors in any educational set up.
Teachers elsewhere and especially in the UAE are low paid. However, blondes from the US, the UK, and Australia etc. are the exceptions. They get all the facilities with a hefty pay scale. School administration throughout emphasize for the teacher training, professional development programme (PDP) but none looks at their plight.
The teachers often toil during school inspections when they have to stay back often foregoing their weekends. They have to be all-rounders, teach, prepare the stage for the inspectors, dance and do all the things which a teacher doesn’t have to be. The teacher has been asked to maintain teaching aids and hard copy of lesson plan but the schools hardly bear the expenses.
Some schools have bizarre criteria. The employ teachers who are on husband’s visa but the teachers who get the visa from the school are asked to stay back till 3.30pm instead of 2.00pm. This rule is not written anywhere, neither in the appointment letter. However, this has been in practice verbally and those on school visa are obliged to stay back.
Education began its mesmerized stride towards the glittery world of business where profits rule with an iron fist. Schools became establishments with nothing but revenues in mind and where the quality of education is no longer a requirement. The current education system in the UAE seems to be taking a cue from the Starbucks model for success, mass franchising and churning out degrees by the dozen. It is quantity, not the quality that matters the most.
Indeed the higher education sector in the United Arab Emirates has become the biggest international higher education hub in the world. But a new study points to serious shortcomings in the country’s universities and colleges.
Sanaa Ashour, an assistant professor of education at Khawarizmi International College in Abu Dhabi and a researcher who led the study, titled “Factors Favoring or Impeding Building a Stronger Higher Education System in the United Arab Emirates wrote in 2016, “Despite the many quality and regulatory bodies in the UAE … the state’s quality of higher education is still debatable.”
According to Ashour, many graduates lack the quality and skills required by the employers and many private institutions—which make up the overwhelming majority of the country’s colleges and universities—are of poor quality.
Nonetheless, the authorities in the UAE were not irked by Ashour’s findings rather they looked for the gaps so that they can fill in the gaps and look for further loopholes. However, the fact remains that the UAE being the world’s richest nation and rapidly developing country, its attempts to develop a higher education system reflects similar to those faced by many other countries in the developing world.
In fact, the UAE should take a cue from Singapore which invested in education heavily and now are reaping benefits. The need is to look for pitfall from the very beginning – the school level. Try to address the demands of teachers as well.
No technology till date has replaced a teacher, so imbibing and embracing technology is good but ignoring foundation stone of the educational system – the teachers is the biggest mistake which can shake the very roots of the educational system anywhere in the world. For the UAE, need is to invest in teachers as well.