Category Archives: School Reform

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


It seems that the GEMS – KHDA confrontation is heating up. This is certainly an interesting development that could spur constructive outcomes.
I tend to see the point that both are making. Intervention ? or regulation ? This is going to be covered by the magazine very soon.
Not having an authority intervening in private schooling “business” and letting the market force its rule is certainly desirable. But that can only be achieved when you do not have a flagrant abuse of certain, obviously temporary, market conditions. Had there not been an abuse of fee structuring, there would not have been a need for intervention.

I shall explain this point for clarity.

In the time of Dubai’s stellar boom, practically all schools followed a fee structure that was more in line with highest profit margin than with sustained, long-term growth. Had these schools offered a good balance of education to cost, they would not have raised the need for a governing body to intervene. The high demand for schools, generated by the high rate of population influx into the country, was what permitted those schools to command the fees that they have.

It would not be accurate to say that these schools were not providing some justification for those fees. State-of-the-art facilities, qualified teaching bodies, accreditation, and then some. But it would also be very difficult to completely discard the feeling that the thought was more geared towards what can justify fees rather than the other way around.

The MEE shall closely monitor this situation and its developments. Stay tuned.

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Teachers, advisors in the PPP school reforms- UAE/GCC

Attention teachers and advisors in the school reforms! We need your input on how the school reforms in the UAE and GCC area are progressing. How much say do you have in the changes being made? Are you satisfied with the progress as far as implementing new curriculum standards and new teaching methods? Are Arab teachers making the transition to student-centered teaching techniques? Are teachers receiving proper professional development to improve their classroom delivery and management? We know there is a major professional development conference in January. Are you taking part in it? How are parents reacting to the reforms and are they participants in it? Are you facing teacher shortages? How is Technology being introduced in the classroom? Are teachers and advisors being adequately compensated for the hike in living expenses? What are your major complaints??? What praise and achievements can you offer?

With permission, some comments will be published online and in upcoming issues of The Middle East Educator magazine.

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Take an oath then a bow

Ok, so school teachers are overworked and underpaid, but does that give them the right to complain or become complacent? They have chosen a profession that molds and shapes young lives and future leaders. Outside of parents, how many can claim that? But who can also guarantee that teachers are doing their jobs properly? The same can be asked of lawyers and doctors, who are unequivocally entrusted with our day to day social and physical well- being. The difference is that the latter have taken an oath to serve in the most ethical and professional matter or else be stripped of their rights to perform. Recently, two American University of Beirut College of education students received awards for outstanding work as student-teachers and on their graduation day they joined their peers in a pledge ceremony that has been taking place for over 10 years. The pledge reads:

“I pledge to lead the life of an educator, to promote moral and academic excellence. I pledge to advance a learning environment, to encourage students to venture, to seek and persevere. I pledge to be an instrument of inspiration to transmit integrity, respect and trust. I pledge to dedicate myself to the welfare of my profession, to nurture the aspirations of future generations.”

Before we recognize teachers for who they are and give them the respect they deserve, shouldn’t teachers everywhere be taking an oath before taking a bow?

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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.


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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