Speaking to the local press, Hanif Hassan, the minister of education, said that the UAE needs to draw lessons from international best practices in the field of education and aim to achieve global standards. He argued that "Strong economies are built on well-structured educational systems." The key to this is a system of licensing, inspection and accreditation.
One of the main areas of concern is teaching standards. Hassan has articulated the need for an improvement in both methodology and training. After receiving a report on the number of teachers without a license, he stressed, "We should teach them the techniques of teaching. It is not enough to have a degree in a specific subject, but they should also know how to deliver knowledge. It is a must that we license all teachers."
Many of the higher education institutions in the country are beginning to cater to this need. For example, Zayed University is coordinating with the Abu Dhabi Educational Council to provide teacher training for the emirate. This is a substantial and growing area for the public university. The Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT), the private education provider, is also training about 200 school principals so that they can then embark on an extensive programme of professional development whose syllabus and material is produced in English.
Although reforming teacher methodology and pedagogy is a central focus of the government's strategy, authorities are also concerned about upgrading standards for all academic staff and for the operation of the institutions. Abdullah Z'al, the director of the office for Technical Affairs at the ministry of education, argued that there is a need to develop a standard for academic accreditation. He asserted, "We cannot send inspectors to evaluate the status of schools when there is not a framework to rely on as a criterion of evaluation." As a result, the ministry is hoping to establish an academic accreditation office which will help to regulate academic standards in every institution of the emirate.
There is a consensus among educational specialists and government figures that an emphasis on a teacher-centric and rote learning approach in secondary education is no longer sustainable. The government is, therefore, trying to address this issue. As it stands, many universities in the country have to provide foundation year courses not only in English language training but also in mathematics and sciences. The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the largest public higher educational institution in the country, provides courses in critical thinking to help students adapt to the learning environment in universities.
According to the latest census, released in June, there are 417,767 nationals in preparatory, primary and secondary education in the UAE. This compares with 1,411,465 non-nationals. The majority of these students attend private sector institutions which the government is increasingly attempting to regulate.
The government in Abu Dhabi is also embarking upon a number of partnerships with the private sector to run and operate clusters of public schools through management contracts. One such establishment, Nord Anglia, won a contract to operate six primary schools in the emirate for three years beginning in July. The contract revenue is estimated at $5.7m per annum, with an estimated profit of $569,000 per annum.
Meanwhile, higher education in the emirate is continuing to grow with the establishment of a number of internationally renowned institutions. Two of the highest profile institutions who have committed to the emirate so far are the Sorbonne University and Insead Business School. At the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Insead and Abu Dhabi Educational Council earlier this year, Mubarak al-Shamesi, the director-general of Abu Dhabi Education Council, said, "we were able to make significant progress in terms of expanding educational opportunities and attracting quality international institutions to collaborate in our academic and research programmes. Our partnership with the renowned Sorbonne University, in Paris, and now the Insead Business School, will certainly strengthen our ability to make the vision of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan of making the UAE a centre for human and technological development in the region come true."
This vision lies beyond traditional learning institutions as it requires foreign direct investment to transfer technology and knowledge to the emirate. Abu Dhabi aims at becoming a leading knowledge-based centre for new technologies ranging from clean energy technologies to supercomputing.
The strong economic growth of Abu Dhabi and the UAE compounds with the government's focus on developing a world class environment for education, research and training. As the country continues to develop, it is seeking to evolve from a knowledge, research and technology provider into a leader in the fields of research and development. Such an ambitious goal is stimulating reform and investment at all levels of the education system.