Across the UAE – including in Sharjah – the education system has developed from almost nothing to a system of universal schooling in a relatively short space of time. This achievement has also been made during a period of rapid technological advances, with students and teachers now required to constantly adapt to the changing needs of society and the workplace.
Education planners have thus been looking at how to ensure the system keeps pace with changes – and with the UAE’s long-term development programme, Vision 2021. The result is the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) Strategic Plan 2017-21, which aims to take the country’s education system to the next level, focusing on innovation and creativity in order to provide the bedrock for a future, knowledge-based society. It also aims to create an Emirates School Model in which schools across all emirates follow a standard system and are subject to uniform levels of quality and qualifications.
Work is currently rolling out several areas. First, there is a major drive towards performance benchmarking on a UAE-wide basis. A national-level Emirates Standardised Test has been introduced to measure understanding in the core subjects of Arabic, English, maths and science, and should address the lack of comparability across the UAE’s schools.
Second, a major overhaul of school curricula is now ongoing, with the aim to create new programmes that stimulate creativity and innovation, while also maintaining ideas of citizenship and responsibility, and Islamic values. Additionally, a two-track system is being introduced to replace a previous science and literature division. Planners believe this new structure will enable graduating high school students to move directly into higher education studies without a foundation year. This should also make application to tertiary institutions abroad and in the UAE more straightforward.
The strategy also sets down a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) for 2021. For student outcomes these include: a 98% graduation rate from secondary schools; a 95% enrolment rate in pre-schools; 90% of students scoring highly in national Arabic tests; and bringing the UAE into the world’s top-20 countries when it comes to Programme for International Student Assessment scores. A knock-on effect of these changes will be the phasing out of foundation courses, with a KPI of 0% enrolment in tertiary level foundation years, while expenditure on research and development as a percentage of GDP will reach 1.5%, up from 0.86% in 2015. These targets are being pursued in Sharjah in particular, where the ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, is very keen to establish the emirate as a centre of educational excellence.
A further plank of the Strategic Plan is reform of the teaching system. A professional licensing system for educators is being brought in, rolling out across the plan period, to establish standardised qualifications for both Emirati and expatriate teachers in both the public and private school systems. To be licensed, teachers must pass a national exam developed by the National Qualifications Authority, the MoE, and several Abu Dhabi-based government educational institutions. This new licensing procedure should help meet the KPI of 100% of schools having high-quality teachers and highly effective school leadership.
Higher Education Efforts
Meanwhile, efforts at standardising outcomes across the UAE are also being applied in the higher education segment. Currently, some universities are recognised and accredited by the federal authorities, while others have just emirate-level accreditation. Students may therefore experience difficulty in transferring from one university to another, especially if it involves crossing an emirate boundary. This problem is increased when the institution is located in a free zone, which may not be subject to the same regulatory regime as the rest of the emirate.
As plans move forward, the year ahead may therefore also see a push for more standardisation – and enhanced outcomes – across all educational levels.
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