Lessons from the UAE

Education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is currently undergoing a period of remarkable systemic change and is now recognised by PISA as “one of the most rapidly improving education systems in the world”.  Here, we consider the role that teachers, both national and international, play in the reforms.

“[Teachers] are the most important individuals in the education sector. It is their hard work and efforts that result in a competent, well-equipped generation of youth” - Dr Ali Al Nuaimi

In any education system, teachers are an indispensable resource in the learning process. A large part of the UAE’s educational reforms is a commitment to providing high-quality teacher training for both new and experienced educators. In 2007, the UAE established The Emirates College for Advanced Education (ECAE) as the first institution dedicated to teacher training, offering a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).

In 2016, the Ministry of Education announced that it would be launching a professional licensing scheme for teachers in 2017, with the aim of establishing a set of basic credentials for teachers in public schools in order to improve standards in education. Teachers in the UAE complete 30 hours of professional development per academic year, in order to improve knowledge and pedagogy and the launch of Vision 2021, the UAE’s multidimensional uae educationprogramme of reform, underpins this. 

The programme outlines the key themes for the Socio-economic development of the UAE and calls for a shift to a diversified and knowledge-based economy and its aim with education is to build a first rate education system characterised by the use of smart systems and devices. It also aims to see Emirati students rank among the best in the world.

The reforms include a greater emphasis on technology, STEM and 21st Century skills. Through various projects focusing on professional development in the STEM subjects and digital skills, teachers are provided with support in delivering new elements of a future-facing curriculum, where their students will be working with new technologies and developments that were not even thought of just a decade or so ago. 

Retention and international teachers

The provision of high-quality training is thought to be one of the biggest factors influencing teacher retention in the UAE. According to a survey done by the Al Qasimi Foundation, teachers found that training sessions that allowed for the sharing of best practice and observations between peers were the most effective in their development. Communities of practice are also highly valued, with one teacher stating: “I learned about a new phone app that promotes dialogue between teachers of the same subject—for example, an online network for English teachers of sixth grade in the UAE”.

The UAE has a large and increasing number of international schools, with the International Schools Consultancy noting the total at 1,504 in 2016. This offers a wide range of opportunities for international teachers to travel to the UAE to teach in English-language curriculum schools. Foreign teachers are in high demand, especially in primary education and for female science and maths teachers. All international teachers must have a certificate to teach English as a second language and have at least two or three years’ experience. At International Schools, amongst 417,000 full-time teachers, 86 per cent of those recruited are from the UK, the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

There is more that needs to be done in terms of supporting teachers. The Ministry of Education is working towards a more collaborative relationship between the Government and educators by organising forums and events to promote discussion and mutual effort towards improved education. 

Ultimately, the strides that the UAE has made in its educational reforms rely on a number of focuses, but it is fair to say that the success of the changes being made to the education systems in UAE countries reply on teachers; their skills, happiness and wellbeing all contribute to pupil, state and national achievement in an undeniable way. As one of the fastest improving regions worldwide, education, and the critical role that quality teaching plays, will continue to be focal point as we move into the future. 



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