The struggle to secure enough qualified teachers to deliver quality technical education is the biggest challenge vocational institutions in the UAE are currently facing, experts said last week.
On a panel to discuss the future of the region's vocational education experts once again highlighted the importance of technical education as a crucial driver of the UAE's economy to diversify future manpower. The panel discussion was organised by Dubai Knowledge Village.
"One of our greatest challenges is to find qualified teachers in vocational education which is why we always look at industrial experience and not academic qualifications," said Dr Naji Al Mahdi, Executive Director of the National Institute of Vocational Education (Nive). "What we try to do is match skills with background so it's now more about suitability rather than paper qualifications."
He added what Nive does with Emiratis with industrial experience interested in teaching is put them on a year-long teacher training fundamental skills course.
"The most important aspect of teaching is to have the passion for it so what we are trying to do is identify skilled Emiratis who are interested in teaching to get the training." Dr Al Mahdi added Nive and other technical and vocational training institutes in the country struggle to find qualified teachers because of the nature of education degrees.
"A majority of teachers go through the traditional schooling and university paths to become teachers and therefore don't have the technical or experiential background to teach vocational education," he said. "Vocational education should be the norm and not the exception, every schoolchild should be exposed to experiential learning; yet trying to implement this at the school level is always met with the obstacle of finding the right teachers."
Dr Abdul Latif Al Shamsi, Director of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), said the UAE community's perceptions about vocational education were undergoing change.
"IAT was founded in 2005 as a high school system when it took over the old industrial schools that used to be for dropouts," he said. "Last week we had an admission exam for students in Dubai who wanted to join grade 9 and we had 2,000 Emirati students sitting those exams; while our intake capacity for this year is 1,000… so something serious has changed."
He added the acceptance of new vocational education systems among Emiratis is reflective of the public schooling system's failing pedagogy of rote learning.