In September 2006, the PPP pilot project was officially launched in 30 K-5 Schools of which 12 are located in Al Ain, 12 in Abu Dhabi and 6 in Al Gharbiya. “How do we fulfill our objectives? Is it by privatizing schools? Do we create independent schools or do we partner with private international education companies? The decision was to partner with private operators who had proven their competency in other countries,” Mubarak Al-Shamesi, Director General of ADEC said. Of the many that had applied, four operators were chosen: CfBT, Intered/Sabis, Mosaica and Nord Anglia. ADEC’s media office informed the Middle East Educator that two different operators will operate 30 new schools for grades 6 to 9 for a period of 3 years beginning September 2007. These school locations and their distribution among the new providers are yet to be determined. “We are trying to give operators the chance to start before the end of the current year, so as to familiarize themselves with the environment, principals and students, while leaving the summer for preparation in terms of staff, equipment, etcetera,” Al Shamesi said.
All operators are required to abide by curriculum standards designed by Tafe Global, the New South Wales Department of Education and Training, which put together a curriculum based on international best practices. For the first time, the standards were not just made for subject matters like Math, Science, English, and Social Studies, but also for Music, Sports, PE, Health and Safety. The bidders also had to answer detailed questions about organizational capacity, increasing student achievement, increasing parent and community involvement in public education, strengthening the quality and quantity of Abu Dhabi national instructors and administrators, and preserving and promoting heritage and culture. As for the actual curriculum to be taught in those schools, Dr. Hanif Hassan, Minister of education for the UAE said: “The students will learn English, Science and Math — all in the English language. Students will also be taught Arabic, Islamic Studies and National Studies, according to the ministry’s curricula using new methods for teaching and learning.”
According to Al Shamesi, education providers may use their own curriculum, textbooks and professional development (PD) techniques with teachers. “Provider “X” might decide to use 6 books, but he realizes that one of his schools is weaker than another, so he may add extra staffing, use different educational resources or choose to concentrate on PD. ADEC does not interfere here,” Al Shamesi said. ADEC assists by helping the operator understand the system better and make the necessary adjustments. “We do check the books to see if they are suitable for students in terms of culture or religion. But today, learning is not dependent on books, so we need resources and a staff professionally developed to deliver in English,” Al Shamesi said. However, what role does ADEC play in the PPP project implementation and who is in control of it? “In order for the council to make sure that the operator meets its requirements, we had to take several steps beginning with the development of the curriculum standards which all operators have to abide by,” Al Shamesi said. ADEC then hired a monitoring agency, Penta International, to evaluate partnership schools in the emirate.
Penta International undertakes the evaluation of the needs of the partnership schools as well as tests the academic performance of the students in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the western region. “Rather than the operator coming to me and saying this school is not functioning, or this principal is not meeting our expectations, I have a monitoring agency that will give me a second opinion,” Al Shamesi said. Penta, which conducts both scheduled and unscheduled visits, also assists the staff for both operators and schools. “We don’t want to wait until the end of the contract or the end of the year to measure progress. We find out where the gaps are early on and we fix them,” Al Shamesi said. On the strength of their international education record, Nord Anglia, a UKbased education provider, won a contract to operate six primary schools in the emirate for three years with a contract estimated at $5.7 million per annum. The company already offers advice and management services to schools, colleges and governments in a number of countries including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. It actually generates more income outside the UK, such as in Eastern Europe, the Far East and now in the Gulf. “Around $134 million of our $230 million in turnover will come from overseas operations,” said David Singleton, Principal Education Advisor with Nord Anglia. The company, for example, is now developing a curriculum for Chinese children based on an English curriculum but very much within the values and beliefs of the Chinese. “They are very sensitive to cultural issues. There is strong commonality in China, Korea, Scandinavia and the UK, with emphasis on learning through play, role play and engaging the children,” said Ann Yeonus, Education Advisor for Nord Anglia. She added that wherever Nord Anglia operates, the idea is always to create continuity after their contract ends. “Like the old saying ‘Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime’,” Yeonus said.
For Abu Dhabi’s PPP project, Singleton said that the Australian curriculum standards offered primary school students a modern practice with two strong elements: a core curriculum taught entirely in English and the removal of textbooks where teachers dominate the learning environment. Like the International Baccalaureate program, the curriculum is engaging and takes advantage of the fact that children learn first through play by exploring their environment. “It was obvious from the start that our biggest role was actually training and educating the teachers, especially when a significant aspect of the project is to have a high proportion of national teachers,” Singleton said.
Nord Anglia has 30 advisory teachers who model best practices and 24 teacher assistants who support national teachers and advise them in the classroom. “The two keywords in this project are Sustainability, i.e. to develop a functioning model when we leave and the second is Capacity Building, where performance management plays a role in succession and promotion,” Singleton added. Nord Anglia’s project director Helen Kavanagh said teachers of Arabic are now requesting to share in the pedagogies of training and teaching for English teachers. “English is the first big mountain, then a new curriculum and new pedagogies. We have textbooks, but not for page by page and day by day usage and we now have assessment reporting instead of tests,” Kavanagh said. With principals being mostly Emirati women, Nord Anglia has also created a support group around them, gaining their trust and confidence and easing any fears they might have. “This is their school; we are here to help and not take it away from them.”
The challenge was also to gain the confidence of all stakeholders i.e. the government, teachers, students, parents and the community as a whole. “Parents really care about their kids’ education and it shows in their 80 percent attendance during school meetings,” Kavanagh said. The new project is activity-based with the assessment matched to the child’s level, as compared to everyday homework using textbooks. “That’s the big shift. A lot of the PPP project work is about matching the level of difficulty in the classroom. Before you added to 10 and then 20 and took homework to solve math problems. Now, depending on their level, kids might be sent home with varying hands-on tasks,” Yeonus said. She gave the example of a teacher who was teaching students to jump on numbers 4, 6 or 9 spread on the ground. “Here’s a great example of a visual, physical and oral application of a new teaching method which works miracles compared to traditional learning,” Yeonus said. In this system, catering to individual needs and levels helps retain slow learners in the same class as high achievers, where as before weak students were kept back a year. Building on its experience as the contractor for the British government to carry out school and quality inspections, and with Singleton being an ex-deputy director of Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education), Nord Anglia has also developed an inspection framework for Abu Dhabi that starts with an evaluation project for Adult Education Centers (literacy and acquisition of English). These are centers for students who left school early and did not complete their education. “When ADEC rolls out all 300 schools, it will be very demanding to keep this high quality education,” Yeonus said.
The Emirate will need to have an inspection body to check if every student is doing well enough and if the teaching supports the curriculum or whether teachers have the proper mechanics. “We hope to devise a model similar to the UK, which is based on schools’ self- evaluation, enabling them to know and manage themselves.” CfBT (Centre for British Teachers for Education ), which won a contract to take over the management of eight schools and four kindergartens in four clusters located in Abu Dhabi, Shahama, Al Ain and Madinat Zayed, began teacher training workshops for about 400 teachers, principals and senior management as a first step towards facilitating school improvement last June. “Quite a number of teachers could speak English to some extent. Children don’t need the confidence to try but teachers do as they have some sensitivity towards making mistakes,” said Jan Reid, director of the PPP program. Teachers with CfBT undergo 2 to 3 professional development sessions per week, attending training workshops on teaching methodology, behaviors, strategies and curriculum development. “The teachers in the schools are working so hard, they are the ones who are making the change,” Reid said. CfBT is also inviting principals to a big conference in the UK in June. “Although not part of the contract, it is an opportunity for the principals to go visit some UK schools and head teachers, share ideas, look at certain areas of teaching practice and hopefully enjoy themselves,” Reid added. Within their Learning Resource Center, CfBT is training teachers on how to use interactive whiteboards and introducing English resources and English reading books. “One of the problems in introducing English books is that you have to get the right level and density. If English is your second language and you opened a math book with far too many instructions in English, you wouldn’t know where to start,” Reid said.
Introducing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is part of the project requirements. Interestingly enough, some schools under CfBT had more than a dozen interactive whiteboards which were being used cosmetically. “We are installing networks, ICT equipment and lots of other technology which we’re training the staff on, including the principals,” Reid said. CfBT’s 12 schools are currently connected via Intranet, enabling teachers to share lessons and best practices, while students are wirelessly connected to the internet but access is controlled to prevent misuse. Andrew Herriot, the regional director of CfBT said that the organization had done a PPP project with Qatar and is already seeking similar opportunities with other governments. “Qatar was our first project with PPP in 2002. Under the auspices of Sheikha Mozah, we helped the Supreme Education Council develop the new curriculum standards for teachers of math and sciences from KG to grade 12,” Herriot said. As a result of that, CfBT was invited to train a cadre of teachers with a Postgraduate Degree in Education- a British teacher qualification. “In the first year we worked with the University of Southampton to develop a course for about 17 teachers who, after graduation, would be able to teach in the so-called independent schools using the curriculum we devised,” Herriot said.
CfBT also helped develop programs that all providers involved in running independent schools would be able to use. The center also headed training sessions held for senior leaders, principals, middle managers, heads of departments, subject leaders and others. “On the strength of our expertise, we bid for all 30 schools in the UAE PPP when we arrived in 2006. This, for us, demonstrates commitment,” said Herriot. So what is the role of the UAE’s ministry of education in all this? An essential one it seems, as both H.E. Dr. Hanif Hassan, Minister of Education and Mohammed Salem Dhahiri, head of the Abu Dhabi Education Zone are board members of ADEC. “There is also close cooperation between ADEC’s employees and MoE employees, to discuss PPP evaluation, share studies that are conducted by ADEC or the ministry, and exchange expertise,” Al-Shamesi said.
That leaves the question of when the rollout phase of the 300 schools will begin. “I cannot say that I can proceed with the rollout until we look at each project in ADEC and study it before we proceed. I am satisfied with the progress being made with the partnership, but will I be 100% convinced once the school year is over? This is hard to say,” Al-Shamesi said. As for grades 10-12, Al-Shamesi indicated that ADEC is planning to launch the program in 2008. “Some people might say that since we started with these operators then we need to give them the next contract, but I say no. We will say that any operator in the PPP will continue using the standards until his contract ends in three years,” Al-Shamesi indicated. Are three years enough? “I don’t know,” said Reid, “ All operators are working to have a sustainable model, but I would hate to think that teachers who are now working very hard may find that at the end of three years they are unable to sustain their efforts.”