UAE: On the road to educational improvement using standardized evidence?

The third year of the KHDA inspections is finished. As KHDA looks back from the first inspections to now, there seems to be a sense of achievement. Reading through the June 9th KHDA press release, the achievement with the most sustainable impact is perhaps the change in culture Fatma Al Marri (CEO of the Dubai Schools Agency) highlighted.

The development of education in the region over the last 10 years has focused on the “engineering” side, such as facilities and equipment. There was less interest in raising social responsibility by sharing data and information about school performance with the community. Furthermore, there was no emphasis on stimulating and encouraging the education sector to improve its performance.

Perhaps the critical contribution of the KHDA to the system is the shift in focus from simple access to education (number of places available for kids) to quality of education. The public questions are now about the availability of quality education for kids – not just a desk in a classroom. New levels of attention are being given to teaching methods, instructional leadership, student engagement, and other factors that have been shown to affect student learning and achievement.

In supporting this shift, Dubai made sure that local efforts were aspiring to international standards. Participation in PISA and TIMSS has further developed Dubai’s attention on evidence. Evidence on the level of success of Dubai schools compared to the rest of the world.

Let’s take a quick look at mathematics achievement.

In 2007, Dubai – for the first time – took part in The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Both public and private schools participated in this international and well known assessment. At that time, around 3000 Year 4 students and 3200 Year 8 students sat the international assessments.

Overall, the average Dubai scores in mathematics were (500 is the international average):

  • In Year 4 maths, Dubai scored 444
  • In Year 8 maths, Dubai scored 461

If we separate the scores between public and private schools, we notice the following:

  • In Year 4, students in private schools scored 40 points higher in mathematics than students in public schools.
  • In Year 8, students in private schools scored 100 points higher in mathematics than students in public schools

This is a great baseline. We know where Dubai started in 2007. Since then, there has been multiple efforts to improve education in both public and private schools.

TIMSS 2011 was administered this year in Dubai (and Abu Dhabi). Now, we wait for the results. It is an exciting time as there is an expectation of improvement.

Indeed, even more exciting are the statements from public education authorities in the region that are increasingly recognizing the potential of improvement as supported by assessment and evaluation.

For example, Abu Dhabi joined the +60 educational systems participating in TIMSS in 2011. According to ADEC’s Director General, the purpose of participating in these international assessments is to raise the level of education in the emirate of Abu Dhabi because the information from the results will help identify & improve the learning outcomes across UAE.

It is a change that will require time and sustained efforts, but the trend-setting in Dubai seems to directly align with the call for “Placing evaluation systems at the service of quality assurance” as agreed upon by the Ministers of Education in the Arab world in September 2010 in the Doha Declaration: “Quality of Education for All.”


3 thoughts on “UAE: On the road to educational improvement using standardized evidence?

  1. The quote from Ms.Al Marri regarding en extended “engineering” phase for UAE schools hit the nail on the head. Still, I find far too many resources put towards shiny new buildings and showy technology with scant attention being paid towards finding out if the learners are indeed learning. It is very pretty window dressing for an empty shop.

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