Interview: Jameela Salem Al Muhairi
What is being done to strengthen English language tuition in schools, and how is the new Arabic curriculum being shaped?
JAMEELA SALEM AL MUHAIRI: English proficiency skills are important in order for students to be able to compete nationally and internationally for the best possible tertiary education. It is an essential skill for the UAE to sustain its competitive edge and to ensure its full transformation into a knowledge-based economy. In order to face this challenge, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has made plans to strengthen students’ English skills, especially for those leaving the secondary level and entering tertiary education. All English teachers have been assessed so that the ministry can ensure that they have the required proficiency levels. Better qualified teachers have since been hired as a result. Students were also assessed and placed in groups according to their proficiency levels, and this has allowed for more focused support where it is needed.
Meanwhile, the ministry has redesigned and developed the English curriculum in collaboration with Cambridge Education. The new curriculum emphasises the development of all language skills equally. This is reflected in the newly designed assessment systems which evaluate students’ listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Furthermore, and in order to enrich students’ experiences in their exposure to English, other subjects have been developed for delivery in English. In addition to English language lessons, students now study design and technology, physical education and health science subjects in English.
Meanwhile, the focus on promoting Arabic continues to be a national priority. A team of highly qualified experts are developing the Arabic curriculum for grades one to 12. After an extensive benchmarking exercise, the new curriculum is being developed based on international best practice with a focus on developing students’ literacy skills. The new curriculum is literature based and draws on the wealth of Emirati and Arab literature, which reflect our values, history, heritage and culture, past and present. In addition, the new Arabic curriculum includes a selection of notable international literary works.
How will mandatory teacher licensing improve learning outcomes and professional development opportunities for educators?
AL MUHAIRI: Teaching is a profession that requires knowledge of a subject and an understanding of pedagogical practices. We want to ensure teachers have mastered both of these factors for an optimal student learning experience, as laid out in the National Agenda. Our plan of action began when we invited educational experts to develop standards that are internationally benchmarked yet locally contextualised.
The MoE is currently working on several fronts to ensure teachers, practising and new, are equipped with the necessary skills to optimise learning for all students. First, a team of experts from the ministry is collaborating with all national universities to incorporate Teacher and Educational Leadership Standards (TELS) into learning modules in their departments. This will provide much needed pre-service preparation and training for newly graduating teachers.
Second, our Training Department is collaborating closely with the Emirates College for Advanced Education to design a comprehensive professional development training programme for existing teachers. This programme aims to up-skill existing teachers who have started teaching without having had the high quality pre-service training that is currently mandatory for all new graduate teachers. Simultaneously, a group of specialists is working on developing pedagogical assessments based on the same professional standards for teachers – TELS. To ensure our system is comprehensive and focused on students’ outcomes, the annual teacher performance management system will be more closely aligned to these professional standards.
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