GEMS Threaten To Close Down Schools in Dubai

According to The National Newspaper, Sunny Varkey has written a letter to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority mentioning the possibility of shutting down schools if they go ahead with the school fee freeze.

We have refrained from sensationalising the issue by using the verb threaten. Mr. Varkey is certainly stating a concern. He believes that the freeze on the school fees would not allow the schools to function within the quality standards set by GEMS and/or KHDA for that matter. However, there certainly is a very loud “or else” in there.

This move is not in any way a shock to this publication nor to anyone in the circle of education in Dubai. It has been lurking since the first confrontation between GEMS and KHDA which stemmed from the freeze on fee hikes of Dubai Modern School as it moved from an old location to new, purpose built facilities. Sunny Varkey is a seasoned strategist and would not lay down conditions that were not thought through. So why now ?

KHDA is still formulating their reply. Both have been thinking about this turn of events long before it happened. These are the scenarios as we see them:

1-KHDA stays firm on its decision. This will force GEMS to proceed with the timely closures of the schools in question. From Mr. Varkey’s letter, one can derive the possibility of closing down the schools and re-opening them under a new fee structure. This would require new licenses. Those are issued by the KHDA. If they proceed with issuing the new licenses, then the schools would have had a freeze on fees for two years and everything is “back to normal.” If KHDA does not issue these licenses, GEMS would have to accept that their growth in Dubai has now been capped. Abu Dhabi has a substantial need for “Indian Schools,” Could GEMS be thinking of moving the expansion there? What would Dubai need to do to fill the need for the students left behind? There are two years in which plans may be made to have other schools open, maybe even in the same locations, by another group. Pause for thought.

2-KHDA accepts to allow certain schools to raise their fees. What will those exceptions include? Where will the lines be drawn? This is the KHDA’s first major confrontation, backing down will have its repercussions. Holding firm will mean either a victory for two years, or the loss of a major school operator and a large employer.

3-GEMS backs down. This is highly unlikely. As we mentioned before, Mr. Varkey has not built a large company by being prone to quick, emotional decisions. Rather, his history brings forth an image of a very meticulously calculating and strategy-planning individual. He would not launch an ultimatum that he is not willing to uphold.

Since KHDA is planning a response soon, we shall hold some of the analysis until the official rebuttal. This is certainly an issue requiring a close watch.

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Microsoft Courier vs Apple iPad Part Two

In Part One of this entry, we discussed some of the differences between the iPad and the Courier. We said that we believed that both products will certainly find their way into schools and schooling. The main point for their success is how well can teachers be trained, not on their usage, but on their potential.

Because the Courier uses a stylus, it might be more favorable to teachers who believe in the importance of handwriting. The iPad only uses a keyboard. Both machines can hold full textbooks. The crucial point here is the publishers’ agreements with Microsoft and Apple. Will the same book from McGraw Hill be available for use on both machines? or will it have exclusivity with one only?

If a student can have all of his or her textbooks on one machine rather than several, that will certainly have an effect. They can have all their reading books on there too. The homework the need to produce. And send. Can be done from anywhere. True or false questions can be send to a server, the results would be sent immediately back to the student and registered in the teacher’s grade book. Students can monitor their performance with the same enthusiasm they follow their stats on Twitter or Facebook or their blogs. They can check how they are doing against National benchmarks.

Term papers will be a joy to do. This is where the Courier’s double screen and multitasking ability might be more in favor than the iPad’s single (larger) screen and single task capability.

The two determining factors will remain, the teacher’s capability to live up to the machine’s potential and the available applications. The students will have no problem milking out the potential of either machine. Long before the teachers will know which is which.

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Microsoft Courier Vs Apple iPad Part One

We saw the previews of the iPad from Apple and fell in love instantaneously. We could not wait to get our hands on one. We were sure that this product will be big and that it will play a major part in the future of schools. As we counted down the days for the iPad to be launched, we saw the “leaked” video of Microsoft Courier on Engadget.com

We were blown away once again. An equally amazing product with slight differences. We got torn. Not by which product we want, we want BOTH. And NOW. No, we were torn by which product will dominate the school scene.

If you are a teacher or an administrator or a parent or any person related, one way or the other, to educating students and you don’t know what products we are talking about, then you need to come up to speed. Pun intended.

The Courier and the iPad (let alone the similar products currently in production, or soon will be) are products that students will be clinging to like mad. The iPad has a larger screen but the Courier has two. You use a stylus with the Courier whereas you type on a keyboard with the iPad. Both have WiFi capability but the iPad has no Java compatibility (some things on the web would not show,) the Courier has a camera and the iPad doesn’t. The iPad may be used as a phone where the Courier couldn’t.

The differences are there, and there are enough of them to make the choice between the two quite difficult. But whereas those two items may seem like a great technological advancement to some of us, especially this writer who remembers vividly using phones with dials, they come across as very natural pieces of equipment to the newer generations. Where we are quite impressed simply by their existence, the newer generations are only interested by what they can do with them. And this will be the major catalyst that will propel one, or both, to a mass market unit.

Apple is banking on the whole iTunes model where users would be buying their music, books, television shows, movies, and soon we believe, different other items like clothing. Microsoft is banking on the large amount of developers out there who can churn out applications as fast as others are scripting viruses for them.

Whichever product will be used most remains to be seen, but we will certainly do our share of testing them. Which is why we need to have both. Ah there, we found a reason !

In part 2 of the post, we will be looking into the potential that these products might have on teaching and learning

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ADEC and AdvancED

There is no doubt that the Abu Dhabi Education Council is hard at work trying to improve the level of education in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The adoption of the Public Private Partnership where the public schools are run by private companies is one example of the Council’s willingness to bring in bona fide experience to help out with the reform being undertaken.

Whereas we totally believe in the experience of all the operators selected for the PPP project, we have always wondered on the marriage of the different schools of thought and attitudes that exist in such cooperations. When ADEC introduced the school inspections, a little later than the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the authority overseeing education in the Emirate of Dubai, they decided to keep the results private. Contrary to the the KHDA’s choice to make those results public.

But the reason for this article is not the comparison between the two councils. The reason for this article is the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between ADEC and Advanced Education Inc. for the accreditation of schools in Abu Dhabi. It is not very clear what the MoU plans to achieve. Are AdvancED going to play an advisory role to help ADEC set accreditation criteria? or are they going to be the accreditation authority for the schools?

With goodwill and a good budget, there is a lot you can do. ADEC has both. AdvancED will be offered the location and all the supplies they need. Their experience is unchallenged. But here’s a thought:

The United States is currently in a whirlwind of assessment and criticism of its own educational system. we have no doubt that AdvancED will not be strangers to the discussions and suggestions and will certainly have a role in the outcome of this storm. It would certainly be very interesting to compare the ideas they will share in the US and in the UAE as to the standards and requirements needed for, what they believe, is quality education. It would be interesting to learn their views on segregated education, on religious studies, on professional development. it will be very interesting to learn how they will view the differences in a teacher from Wisconsin and a teacher from Roueiss.

The blond and blue-eyed consultant still carries an added advantage to many people in the region, but the time has long been here for the locals to learn, adapt, and implement according to the needs that they alone are extremely aware of.

We believe that it would have been a much better use of funds to set up a group of young, energetic Emiratis to be sent to work at different accreditation authorities around the globe. They would be able to learn the different processes involved in setting accreditation criteria and they would have been able to design an accreditation process born and bred in Abu Dhabi.

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Filed under Abu Dhabi, School Reform, Staff, UAE

The future of publishing

The Publishing houses might soon need to sell off some desks, relocate to smaller premises, and downsize the coffee machine. The large staff may lose their jobs but they will certainly not lose their work. Here’s why we think so:

The ease by which a person may publish their work has now reached the point where it takes less than 45 seconds to set up a blog. The creative writers who are also tech savvy may very well add links to that blog that are relevant to their writing, let alone generate income from that. Example, a blog of a work of fiction where the protagonist drives a certain car may include a link, paid or not, to the manufacture’s website. There could be a suggested list of songs that accompanies the work, or links to the places mentioned, whether restaurants or cities or small towns.

All of this is currently achievable and has been for some time, yet it did not create the threat to the publishing industry that is now looming. That is due to the fact that it was not packaged like it now will be with the iPad and Kindle. Writers will now be able to sell their work directly through iTunes or Amazon. But any work?

Anyone could have printed their material themselves and tried to sell it and many have. But the process required more than just printing. A work needs to be edited, checked, and reviewed. More importantly, it needed exposure and distribution. Isbn’s, shelf spaces, book signing tours. You needed the big publishing houses. Even if you went the independent publishing route, chances were that the house was already owned by one of the big names.

The one thing that has changed now is that editors, proofreaders, marketers, and jacket designers can be freelancers who receive work by email. Their work is still in demand but they don’t have to be in big publishing houses to do so.

School textbooks: Now here’s a very interesting future. Once linked through electronic media, a history lesson would include immediate interactive maps and footage available at a finger’s touch. The sound of the bombing would render a more realistic meander into battles past than a black and white picture might ever achieve. Chemistry might become that much easier when we can actually see what the *&^% is the teacher talking about. Poetry? what if students were unlucky enough to have a dull English language teacher who could never transfer the beauty of verse? Well, we are sure that we will be able to locate some site where we would find great explanations and insight into verse from someone who could really transfer the beauty.

You get the point.

The industry will not collapse. It will just be broken up into the different areas that are now housed under one roof.

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Lack of Arabic Content

The chief strategist of Etisalat, one of the two telecom providers in the UAE, believes that there is not enough Arabic content on the internet to take full advantage of newly built broadband networks in the region.
It is an interesting exercise to ponder on that comment.
Not that the increase in bandwidth in the region is only beneficial if content in Arabic is abundant, but we would like to list some of the reasons why we believe there is scarcity in that area.
1- The widespread use of the English language in the region
2- Technology is being produced in the English language (here’s another pondering station)
3- Content is directly linked to freedom of expression
4- The Arabic language is common to the region only in its classical form. This means that the written language is different the spoken one.
5- Creativity, although present in the region, is not widespread (see freedom of expression)

The problem boils down to a very important issue which is the quality of the teaching of the Arabic language in schools as well as the quality of teaching in the Arabic language.

Before content is produced, we need to produce those who can churn out that content. Our kids are as bright as any. But they are not intrigued by the Arabic language. And it is not their fault.

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Maarif and Intel Sign E-Learning Agreement

Maarif and Intel have signed an e-learning agreement using Intel’s Classmate PC. http://www.ameinfo.com/204336.html
Wait a minute! weren’t those designed to be low-cost, minimum technology units inspired by the One Laptop Per Child initiative ?

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Filed under Saudi Arabia, Technology in Schools