Category Archives: Issue 4

Microsoft – A Software Company With A Heart Drive

Cover 4
There is nothing “micro” about Microsoft. As of July 2006, The Microsoft Corporation, a multinational computer technology corporation which develops manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of software products for computing devices, had global annual revenue of $44.28 billion and employed more than 71,000. Owing its success to the community it serves, Microsoft went “macro” with an educational concept aimed at establishing a connected learning community with IT knowledge at its core.

We’re intimately attached to our personal computer whether it being a desktop, laptop, palmtop (or PDA) or wearable computers – the latest trend in computing where common computer applications (e-mail, database, multimedia, calendar/scheduler) are integrated into watches, cell phones, visors and even clothing! e challenge lies in giving everyone of us the opportunity to tap into this technology and this is where Microsoft comes in. “We don’t look at education as a profit driver, but rather as a vehicle to deliver on our corporate citizenship mission as a way of paying back to the societies the company is working with, and we think the best way is through education,” Microsoft Education Sector Manager Ahmad Al Komi said. Microsoft’s website says the company enables people and businesses to realize their full potential. “Our mission for education is to enable students, educators and educational institutions to realize their full potential, as these are the main pillars supporting the education process,” Al Komi said. He added that the company’s goal is to have a connected learning community that includes students in K-12 schools and higher education institutions, educators, government employees, business leaders and companies.

NGO-based initiative

One important segment of the society Microsoft is targeting are those underserved by technology, like women, the elderly, and the handicapped. Extensive work with NGOs, governments and concerned ministries enabled Microsoft to meet a number of candidates in this target group, which the company empowers by starting technology learning centers. “We have lots of activities in many parts of the world and we donate the software and find partners to donate the hardware,” Al Komi said. After the ICT components are provided and installed, Microsoft covers the cost of training master trainers with the idea of having a sustainable model. “We don’t want them to come to us every time they need to train a portion of their community; we need to empower them to do things on their own,” Al Komi explained. Under the training master trainers program, Microsoft is ambitiously looking to directly or indirectly train 250 million people worldwide within five years, an endeavor covering all its activities including K-12 and higher education. Regionally, and working with ministries of education, the company has trained around 1600 master trainers, which benefited a combination of 100,000 students and teachers. Microsoft has very strict guidelines not to link business with philanthropic community services. In many parts of Africa where Microsoft doesn’t have licensing agreements, Microsoft still engages in several community affairs and this is partly due to a company culture that measures employees by how many community services activities they had participated in.


Partners in Learning

Partners in Learning is Microsoft’s global K-12 initiative that the company believes will enable students, educators and the institutions rise to their full potential and has so far spent $253 million towards that goal. Regionally, the company goes to ministries of education and asks them what they required to empower the educational process in those countries. This could be in areas pertaining to teacher development, teacher training, help in curriculum, curriculum development, help in integrating ICT into teaching and learning, or help on starting an e-learning system. Microsoft covers the whole spectrum of education talking with policy and decision makers at seminars and forums, where the company gets them communicating with each other to collaborate and exchange experiences on educational initiatives. “Some people believe that we pitch our software but we don’t! We talk about the importance of ICT in education and learning and the role of ICT in educational reform,” Al Komi said. Under Partners in Learning, Microsoft has created ‘the innovative teacher’ network. When teachers acquire some IT skills, not more than 10-15% will use those IT skills in teaching and learning. If they are then trained to integrate ICT in teaching and learning, that percentage will perhaps increase to 30 or 40%. “What about the rest? We believe we need to integrate some system of motivation by creating communities where teachers communicate, collaborate, compete and recognize the innovative teacher,” Al Komi said. In addition to having trained master trainers and teachers from different ministries of education in the region on Integrating ICT into teaching & learning, Microsoft also organized the “Arab Innovative Teachers Forum” twice (Sharjah 2005, & Cairo 2006), where teachers and curriculum developers from the entire Arab world came to exchange ideas, discuss integration of ICT into education and compete on the forum awards. In 2007, Microsoft will create the innovative teacher’s portal as a way for continuous collaboration for the teachers.


Peer Coaching Program

Microsoft’s peer coaching program is aimed at having the senior staff help their colleagues integrate ICT in learning, and to create a peer coaching champion in every school. “If you have a teacher who has basic IT skills but cannot implement these skills into teaching or learning, a trained senior staff will supply this missing link in tandem with another program called integrating ICT in teaching and learning.

School Leadership Program

Microsoft has on its staff a number of university educators from the University of Washington’s college of education in addition to specialized education consultancy groups. “Under this program, we train school principals and their assistants about new management techniques such as the new directions for leading and management while preaching the importance of ICT in education,” Al Komi said.

Future programmer program

Starting in the UAE and soon in the rest of the GCC and the Arab world, the Future Programmer Program is targeted for students, but Microsoft trains trainers who are teachers to roll out the program to students who could become programmers. It takes 160 hours of training for students to become programmers. A related initiative is called the “IT Academy” which helps university students during their early information technology (IT) experience and offers a life-long learning model of continuous improvement and career development. Microsoft gives a university a set of curriculum and training guides which will help them deliver a market-related training program where students can earn a certificate, not only an academic degree. “If you graduate with a Computer Science degree, you may or may not get a job but if you have something that says you are a certified network administrator, or a certified software solution developer, which is something you really need in real life, then your chances are much better,” Al Komi said.

The PC Initiative

With governments thinking about the digital inclusion problem and how to bridge the digital divide, providing a world class education also means providing the means and tools like software and hardware to each and every citizen. “We should help and think of programs which will help governments reach their goals,” Al Komi said. With The PC initiative, Microsoft talks to multinational companies, computer manufacturers and the system builder channels to provide the hardware. Local manufactured brands by computer assembly shops are cheaper than global brands and they benefit the country more. “As part of the company’s citizenship goals, bridging the digital divide has to benefit the local economy; while working with multinationals is fantastic, working with local providers not only helps them get introduced to governments but also do better business and it creates more local PC manufacturers,” Al Komi said . In Egypt, Microsoft’s PC initiative helped create local PC brands through three factories who are now exporting PCs to the entire Arabic region. “Centra, now a famous brand, is a child of this initiative.”

Knowing that we cannot escape technology’s growth or impact on our standards of living, it’s better to be prepared for this eventuality. And while some believe that technology has advanced to such an extent that it has exceeded our humanity, philanthropy has thankfully not escaped the minds of Microsoft founders.

E-Learning

E-learning means a lot of things but basically it is getting your education and learning through an automated computerized system. “E-learning has now become the foundation of any educational reform; it is an integral part to enhance the learning experience of the student and is also the only way to transform the students into autonomous learners,” Microsoft Education Sector Manager Ahmad Al Komi said. In the traditional method of teaching, the teacher is the focus of the educational process. Now the world is changing and the teacher is becoming more of a facilitator. In order to have the students learn by themselves, companies like Microsoft created a system where the students can go, log in and get their knowledge; the teacher can help them use this knowledge. “E-learning is the main driver to have autonomous learners, and if we can create those autonomous learners, then we would have extended the educational process outside the boundaries of the school or university so that once they leave the school or university, they could still learn,” Al Komi explained. The same concept applies to employees who could log into their company’s e-learning system. One of Microsoft’s initiatives is ‘The School of the Future’ concept. This can be achieved when the school has a ratio of one student to one PC and has implemented an E-Learning system. “At that point, we would have empowered teachers, students and administrators with state of the art infrastructure and a collaboration system enabled through our software. The role-based portal like “The Learning Gateway” from Microsoft is an e-learning possibility that allows students, teachers, parents and administrators to log onto the portal- each with different credentials – and access a set of services related to the user. “These services are colorful and interactive and give teachers for example the chance to upload homework and group related activities, which could be done by students from home or during class sessions using a communication software in place like instant messaging,” Al Komi said. During communication with governments, Komi advises that when they create e-learning portals, officials need to take into consideration the lifestyle of students who nowadays like to chat and have blogs, instant message, or play. With Back-Pack.com- a subscription service software that enables the user to manage personal information, create project files, and invite multiple players- and the tablet PC replacing interactive whiteboards, the school of the future is looking more like a reality, at least in the US, Europe and parts of the region.

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Filed under Educational Projects, Issue 4

Modern Motessori School – Amman

The students call it “home”. The teachers are extremely loyal to it. Modern Montessori School caters to the individual educational needs of kids from the KG levels. It created a model of learning that fosters a freedom in teaching based on the Montessori and IB systems. That school model is now beginning to spread regionally.

My best memories of school, outside sports and falling instantly in love with attractive members of the opposite sex, were of the times I concocted a successful plan to escape the school grounds. The stiff regulations and traditional chalk and talk ways of learning never suited me and many of my co-conspirators felt the same. While many educational institutions are still embracing traditional methods, some are seeking to change students’ attitudes towards their establishment. One in particular has made a complete crossover into uncharted territory. “We are a family,” said Amr Hasri, a student in an Arabic Literature class at Modern Montessori School (MMS) in Amman, Jordan. Hasri was merely echoing feelings he shared with many of his peers like Ali Sharaf who is graduating in 2007 after having been at MMS since Kindergarten. “This is my home,” Sharaf said, “but when I leave I’m going to major in Business Information Systems.” Similarly, Sandy Deen said school “feels like home” explaining that teachers are warm, friendly and informed.

In fact, teachers had a lot to do with the way these kids felt. Omar Kurdi said teachers at MMS are emphasizing concepts like teamwork and sowing in them an interest in learning and discovery, preparing them for the future, every step of the way. Shafik Nassar said teachers are preparing them for “the new world” and Nassouf Kayali said teachers are involved and share in the students’ successes in and out of the classroom, “which is great”.

Of course there are still borders between students and teachers, but this doesn’t necessitate a lack of friendship between the two camps. Educators at MMS are themselves authorized to adopt modern teaching methods that generate interest through camaraderie and learning through acquired expertise and genuine fascination in the students’ lives. “We have a very nice atmosphere in school, making it a second home for students and teachers. We empower our instructors by investing in them, trusting them, and giving them a lot of freedom, and as a result they’re satisfied, relaxed and highly efficient,” said Randa Hasan, Principal and owner of MMS.

I caught up with a few teachers later during my visit and took the opportunity to validate the owner’s claims. Jihan Abu Awad has been teaching English to Grades 11 and 12 since joining MMS three years ago. “The school offers teaching flexibility and many opportunities for widening one’s horizons through professional development (PD) which serve to benefit students at different stages of learning,” Awad said. Integrating e-learning with mixed recipes of teaching, Awad said students are better able to communicate with their peers and the teachers, electronically or otherwise, directly or through forums and debates. “I taught for 8 years before coming here. There was a period of adjustment to the new methods we learned through PD, but it’s been the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had,” Awad said.

Dr. Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. She developed over the years an interest in the treatment of children. At age twenty-eight, she became the director of a school for mentally disabled children. After two years under her guidance, these children, who had been considered “un-educable”, took a school examination along with normal children and passed successfully. Educators called Dr. Montessori a miracle worker. She was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The name Montessori is not legally protected. Montessori is not a system for training children in academic studies. It is a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development of children.

Multi-aged Grouping, based on Periods of Development: Children are grouped in three or six-year spans and have the same teacher.

The 3-Hour Work Period: A minimum of one uninterrupted 3-hour work period per day.

The Human Tendencies: The Montessori method is based on human tendencies— to explore, move, share with a group, be independent, develop self-control, abstract ideas from experience, use the creative imagination, work hard, repeat, and perfect.

The Process of Learning:

Stage 1- introduction to a concept by means of a lecture, lesson, etc. Stage 2- developing an understanding of the concept through work, experimentation, and creation. Stage 3- “knowing”, demonstrated by the ability to confidently pass a test, or to express with ease.

Indirect Preparation: The steps of learning any concept are analyzed by the adult and are systematically offered to the child.

The Prepared Environment: Since the child learns to glean information from many sources, it is the role of the teacher to prepare and continue to adapt the kid’s environment.

Observation: Scientific observations of the child’s development are constantly carried out and recorded by the teacher. These observations are made on the level of concentration of each child, the introduction to and mastery of each piece of material, social development, physical health, etc.

Work Centers: The environment is arranged according to subject area, and children are always free to move around the room, and work on a piece of material with no time limit.

Teaching Method: There are no textbooks, and seldom will two or more children be studying the same thing at the same time. Children learn directly from the environment, and from other children—rather than from the teacher. Large groups are phased out as the children gain independence.

Class Size: The most successful 3-6 or 6-12 classes are of 30-35 children to one teacher, with one non-teaching assistant, this number reached gradually over 1-3 years.

Basic Lessons: A well-trained Montessori teacher spends a lot of time during training practicing the many basic lessons with materials in all areas. She/he must pass difficult written and oral exams in order to be certified. Trained to recognize a child’s readiness, the teacher plans lessons for each child, each day, but will bow to the interests and passions of a child.

Areas of Study Linked: All subjects are interwoven; history, art, music, math, astronomy, biology, geology, physics, and chemistry. A child studies them in any order he chooses.

Assessment: There are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment, subtle or overt. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher’s observation and record keeping of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, and love of learning.

Learning Styles: Musical, bodily kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intuitive, natural, and the traditional linguistic and logical-mathematical— are nurtured.

Character Education: Children are given the opportunity to take care of themselves, each other, and the environment through activities such as gardening, cooking, building, moving gracefully, speaking politely and doing social work in the community.

After heading the math department for the International School of the Hague in the Netherlands and the Kingdom School in Saudi Arabia, Mohamed Youssef headed the math department at the MMS. “I have proven myself over the past five years here. This school will trust you, but in other establishments, a teacher is questioned over and over again and has to follow procedures and policies and face restrictions and interferences in the syllabus,” Youssef said.

The Montessori system (See box A) has a lot to do with the way things are run here, but it’s a mixture of pioneering, leadership and drive that helped build a school with this culture. e MMS was only the second school to introduce the IB system after the prestigious Amman Baccalaureate School and the first, according to Hasan, to adopt the Montessori philosophy of education in Jordan and essentially in the region. “When I established a Kindergarten in 1985 in the Shmaysani area, every time people heard of the name Montessori, they thought I was part of a religious sect. That was my first real struggle,” Hasan said.

The second obstacle that faced Hasan was the perception her friends and acquaintances had of her as a shipping expert and a leather shop owner, prior to deciding to become an educator. “My father, who later financed my endeavor, initially almost had a heart attack, but I was determined to make a difference in education especially when my kids were of school age,” Hasan said.

Next came the challenge of finding trained teachers in the Montessori method, so Hasan found a reputable Montessori center and established a teacher training college in Jordan in 1988, which she bought in 2000. “We have now Arabized the Montessori method in terms of training procedure, material, and curriculum; something no one else has done even as far as the US,” Hasan said. Using workbooks to apply knowledge and translate thoughts on paper is an innovation to the Montessori system. Kids go through 25 books during the three years that they are in KG, tackling subjects that include math, culture and language, with each student receiving his own level of work depending on his ability. “We found a way to enrich the kids’ learning experience and the Montessori system that we have designed can be franchised,” Hasan added.

MMS uses a mutated version of the Montessori system to adapt to the grade system applied in Jordan. Unable to use vertical grouping all the way up to high school level – students aged 2 1/2 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 12 and 12 to 18 are grouped together – MMS applies the same philosophy into the grade level where each student can work at their own pace. “The nice thing about using your own abilities and not rote learning is that students apply logic and deduction in line with the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy, where you do your work, structure, analyze and get results,” Hasan said. The similarity of the system with the IB enables MMS to use a unique philosophy, which allows the students to meet the IB program all the way to the Diploma level.

In 1993, MMS bought the land and moved into its current location and began building up its K-12 program according to the IB requirements with a focus on having a pure bilingual program. Every subject was taught in both English and Arabic using a teacher/student ratio of 10 to 1, thus catering to the individual abilities of the students.

The teachers at MMS are mostly Jordanian who have either studied abroad, are experienced educators or new local graduates who were trained at the school’s center. “Losing teachers is a major concern, especially after you make such an investment in them in terms of them attending conferences, workshops and training. But we manage to keep them because they feel it is their school, where they are the decision makers and we give them an incentive to move forward and grow to their full potential,” Hasan said. Dina Lahlou is a theory of Knowledge teacher, a branch of learning that cuts across all subjects like science, history, and math and which turns out versatile students able to manipulate perception, emotion and language using logic and reasoning. e Boston University graduate with a master’s degree in International Relations has been teaching at MMS since 2001. “This school has a very unique and interesting culture. It encourages creativity a lot. We have the freedom to bring our own personal touch and that’s what makes a difference for a teacher. I am always encouraged to experiment with new things,” Lahlou said. She said the school’s extracurricular activities are feeding the students’ creative processes “while other institutions are more rigid, restricting students in time and space, not allowing them to either make mistakes or tap into their full potential. Somehow this school’s culture has contributed to the amazing loyalty the staff has for it.”

MMS is constructing a 24,000m2 senior school area complete with theatres, auditorium, gym, art galleries and laboratories, which in size are even bigger than the existing 17,000m2 built-up area. “The new facility will give students creative space and is not intended to attract more students, since I am working at capacity with 1,400 kids who hop on the schools’ 30-plus buses from all over Amman,” Hasan said. MMS already has a strong sports program that includes soccer, basketball, swimming, gymnastics, and dancing, in addition to performing arts, graphic design and technology. This year, MMS introduced the Amin Hasan Award, in the name of the owner’s late father, for children aged 7-12, where students compete for Bronze, Silver and Gold based on creativity, action and community service. “The technology and science labs have opened the door for student inventions. Last year, one of my students came in 3rd in the world through a competition organized by Intel, becoming the only Arab to do so,” Hasan prided. The student had invented a device that can be installed on buses to absorb pollutants in the air. This year, three MMS students won local competitions for devising a method to extract petroleum from rocks using sunlight and qualified for the international award. “We entered a competition and together with my colleagues Luna and Layal, we qualified to go to the US competition with Intel,” student inventor Nader Hamas told me.

Most schools try to limit the number of special needs students they would accept because of the taxing effort it takes in terms of time, cost and required expertise in the field. Not MMS. A philanthropist by nature, Hasan began testing students with learning disorders and recruited teachers who have a master’s degree in those fields. “We started small and now we have 42 teachers just for the learning support. We do our own assessment and that of other schools when asked and now we are focusing on designing programs for gifted students also,” Hasan said. Interestingly, all types of students remain in class, with support teachers working on their individualized programs, assessments and follow up. Abu Awad, for example, has mixed ability classes and is assisted by a teacher who works with seven special needs students with varying levels of disability as well as elite students. “I have many special needs students who passed the IB program and joined other universities,” Hasan said. MMS employs a number of university advisors, psychological counselors and pastoral observers who follow the students’ personal and academic careers. “Starting at fees of 10,400 JDs, tuition is competitive but not cheap, however we rear well-rounded kids who are sure of themselves and trained to live up to their responsibilities as well as balance their independence,” Hasan said.

Building on the success MMS has in Jordan, Hasan is aiming to spread her own network of Montessori schools in the region. “I feel I have the time to start something new. So I visited Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain. There is a tremendous need for culturally-oriented bilingual education in an international format,” Hasan said. Having found a location in Dubai’s Green Community, Hasan began building a 7500 m2 Kindergarten there. “My plan is to find locations for different KGs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, then Cairo, Qatar, and Bahrain and later develop them into full-fledged K-12 schools.” To finance the projects, Hasan is working on establishing a holding company and formulating an education fund to invest in the Montessori growth in the region. “I don’t see others in the field as competitors. This could be dangerous, but if I had thought that way, I wouldn’t have dared open this school to begin with,” Hasan offered.

MMS has another yearly tradition, a sort of graduating farewell to students leaving their second home. The administration braces itself for a stunt that graduating students do before they move to college. One time, the students jumped in the pool with their clothes on. Cute! “Yesterday, they brought an ugly bunch of chickens and let them loose on campus. It wasn’t funny when they did it, but today I laugh about it.”


NOT QUITE VIRTUAL, BUT E-REAL

Modern Montessori’s School (MMS) principal and owner Randa Hasan believes it is important to link students to their homes and parents to their kids’ school. MMS’s portal allows parents and students to remain in touch with the school and teachers, through e-mail and chat rooms. “The e-learning system is in the trial phase, but the curriculum is supposed to be carried online too,” Hasan said. Although not using interactive whiteboards, MMS is studying that option and planning to introduce the technology in the new 24,000m2 facilities they’re currently building. “The teachers want to explore how more interactive the students can be with that technology. My vice principal, also the head of senior school, was telling me that even lab work and experiments can be done on the computer. This type of technology I will definitely go for,” Hasan said. Students that I’ve spoken to at MMS believe having PCs in the classroom is in order. “With the lesson displayed at each desk, it makes it easier to see and interact with the teacher,” they said. Others had their own ideas about what they would like to implement. “Perhaps we should have programs to learn through songs, since rhythmically we learn much quicker. Isn’t that how kids in KGs learn?”

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Filed under Issue 4, Jordan, Montessori, School Profile

School Reform – In What Form ?

School reform in the Arab region is multi-faceted. In this conference, foreign experts shed light on their countries’ experience with public school reform. UAE nationals showed indi erence then apprehension towards western ideas of school reform, of fear that these might rob locals of their cultural identity. Look for The Middle East Educator to cover major school reform projects regionally.

He had a lot to say and he tried to speak slowly and deliberately. Amid the disharmony of sounds, he cracked a joke and nobody laughed. In fact, throughout the keynote speaker’s monologue, the conference room sounded like a cocktail party, except no alcohol was being served.  The expert was Peter McWalters, Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.

McWalters was speaking at a conference organized last April 17th by The College of Education at the UAE University.  The three-day symposium in Dubai entitled ‘School Reform: Challenges and Aspirations’ hosted workshops and discussions featuring a number of case studies of international scholars and researchers in the field of school reform.

What happened to McWalters came in great contrast to the inaugurating speech made by Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Chancellor of UAEU Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak Al Nahayan. His presence so commanded the attention of everyone that you could hear a pin drop. “We have to address this era’s challenges and proceed with important national objectives to elevate the standards of learning from KG to grade 12 levels,” Al Nahayan said.  The minister said the education ministry is working closely with universities on book and curriculum reform, teacher rehabilitation and the implementation of national studies and best practices. “We need to close the big gap between high school and higher education and reduce the exorbitant cost of having college freshmen take remedial courses,” Al Nahayan stressed. He then urged the audience to listen and learn from the experiences of the panel of experts at the conference. Indeed McWalters had some insightful information. He said that in the US, reform was something that was revisited every couple of generations. “We did not serve our children. Only 30% graduated from college with 40-50 percent of high school students not being prepared for it,” McWalters said. In 1983, a federal program entitled ‘A nation at risk’ sent the message that to support one’s family, people needed an education beyond high school with either a two-year technical diploma or a four-year university degree. “The alternative was to become a second class economy with many dropouts being prison inmates and the rest unemployed and either way it’s financially taxing,” McWalters explained. Between 1983 and 2000, all the work was done at state level but in 2000-2001, the federal government revisited with the aim of having all kids graduate. “There was no connetion between high school completion and university placement with teachers on either side not speaking the same language,” McWalters said. He said that children were not encouraged to think critically and debate knowledgably since teaching methods were based on facts with tests based on recall. “They covered who, when and where but not why,” McWalters opined adding “Change has to start at the KG level.”


The commissioner then explained that reform could not happen if the teacher, principal, commissioner and ministry each has a different understanding of leading and supporting. He asked whether UAE schools had teams of teachers who took time or were allowed to share knowledge and practices, or if they made assessment and testing decisions based on state standards. “ e answer in the UAE is here with you. It has to be wrestled with and debated. No one will do it for you,” McWalters advised.

But once McWalters was done, the audience, realizing there wasn’t any auditory input, politely applauded.  The language barrier was something that even simultaneous translation couldn’t overcome. Next up was Kati Haycock. Perhaps thinking of a new communication stratagem to break through the audience, she gingerly took her place at the podium with an uneasy smile on her face.

Being one of the leading child advocates in the field of education, Haycock speaks out for what’s right for young people, especially those who are poor or members of minority groups. She offered a number of suggestions needed to create world-class education. She said that leaving curriculum matters in the hands of teachers will give uneven and repetitive results. “Teachers need clear support as to what to teach and consistency in what teachers ask their students from school to school,” Haycock said. She said that succumbing to a salary based purely on experience means sacrificing teaching quality. “Administrators need to let bad teachers go, no matter what their experience is, and also recognize that effective teachers are not interchangeable,” Haycock pointed out. She said that teachers who get the biggest learning gains need to be studied in terms of their knowledge, practice and attitude “and this is how we prepare future teachers and drive the recruitment process.”

You could almost hear the room full of UAE public school teachers mumble their disapproval of what was being presented to them- reform of their Arab schools based on western ideas. During one of the Q&A sessions, one UAE gentleman commented: “I am not against reform per se, but rather against reform that takes away my garb, my culture, my religion and my children.” He was speaking as a teacher, parent and citizen, and echoing the words of UAEU’s vice-chancellor at the conference. “School reform cannot rely solely on the efforts of those in charge of schools, but also on the effective partnership forged by all stakeholders including educational leaders, teachers, administrators, parents, students and the community at large, said Dr Hadef bin Jouan Al-Dhahiri.

EXACTLY! WHERE WERE THEY?

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Filed under Conferences, Dubai, Issue 4, School Reform

PPP in Abu Dhabi

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.”

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Filed under Abu Dhabi, Hadi Khatib, Issue 4, Public Private Partnership, School Operators, School Reform