Last week, the second annual ECSSR conference – Essentials of School Education in the United Arab Emirates – boasted a series of different talks. The speakers included the Director General of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, the Managing Director of the Institute of Applied Technology, and the Director of Curriculum Department of the UAE Ministry of Education. Some speakers highlighted the recent policies and objectives in the various emirates vision/strategic documents – while others were more pointed about the issues that need to be addressed for the UAE to reach those goals.
After listening to all the addresses, there were some common messages that appeared to have large-scale agreement:
Early childhood education needs to become a norm. Arab countries are only at the beginning of having early childhood education centers and it is needed to help offer learners an excellent foundation before they start school. This point was linked to the notion that schools and communities should be connected which necessarily calls for greater parental involvement. Together – this particular point was made with sensitive referral to Arab culture and how that relates to early childhood education and expectations of schools – and of parents/guardians.
Active learning is the goal. The call to move away from the rote approach to teaching where students are considered receptive vessels of knowledge who can passively regurgitate was loud. Active learning that includes investigation, hands-on exploration, promotes independent thought and regards student engagement as important is being promoted. With the call for teaching and learning that engages students was assessment approaches that help students rather than hurt them.
Data is becoming a normal part of the discourse in education in the UAE. The prevalence of using educational data for understanding the situation and for making decisions to improve the system was evident. Enrolment data, drop-out trends, TIMSS, PISA, survey results, etc. Presenters who spoke from opinion and experience without actual evidence were in the minority!
Although the UAE has invested in the national educational data – most is not public and what was highlighted in almost every single talk was the international assessment results with comparisons to the rest of the world. In so doing, the speakers noted the markedly lower results of the participating Arab states. From those results – and others – they called for serious attention to our learners.
It was impressive how the data was being referenced. Decision makers were presenting data to demonstrate the rationale for their own directives and decisions . It was evident that this kind of information was moving circles of officials to become evidence-seeking educational leaders – and as many of the speakers noted … this is how change can happen for the better.