Technology to drive UAE's educational agenda forward
The government counts much on education as one of key enablers to deliver the 2021 Vision and smart learning has been instrumental in harnessing the power of technology to drive the UAE's educational agenda forward. In today's competitive
economy, the UAE recognises the paramount importance of harnessing the potential of its human capital and building a knowledge-based society in order to compete effectively on the global stage. The recent education initiatives, launched by the Cabinet Retreat, are yet another huge stride forward for the UAE towards achieving an integral element of the UAE Vision 2021, and developing a truly world-class educational infrastructure and workforce.
A rapid rise in population has necessitated a considerable investment in education. Today, the UAE, under the leadership of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, offers a comprehensive education to all male and female students from kindergarten to university, with education for the country's citizens being provided free at all levels. There is also an extensive private education sector.
Much has been achieved since the early 1970s but efforts are now being made to improve the educational environment for all pupils, in line with a re-evaluation of the role of government. Statistics showed that the number of government schools rose from 132 in 1972 to 685 in 2013 with student body of more than 305,000, while private schools increased from 18 to 489, enrolling over 605,000 male and female students.
With education continuing to get increased national priority, 21 per cent, or Dh 9.8 billion of the 2014 budget of Dh 46 billion, has been allocated to both general and higher education sectors. It will be spent on improving the general education (Dh 6 billion) and academic excellence programme in local universities (Dh 3.8 billion).
New initiatives are being launched at all educational levels. A key area of focus has been to transform K-12 programs, to ensure that UAE students are fully prepared to attend universities around the world and compete in the global marketplace.
The Ministry of Education's strategy is grounded on the UAE Vision 2021 which envisages that a diversified and flexible knowledge-based competitive economy will be powered by skilled Emiratis and strengthened by world-class talent to ensure long-term prosperity for the UAE.
Education reform focuses on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. In addition, rote instruction is being replaced with more interactive forms of learning, and English-language education is being integrated into other subjects, such as math and science. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is leading the reform, while preserving local traditions, principles and the cultural identity of the UAE.
The ministry is constantly honing its educational strategy to ensure that the programmes developed in its schools comply with international standards, with particular focus on introducing the latest IT resources at all levels.
The ministry, in partnership with Etisalat and with Google, launched in October 2013 a major push into online education to develop hundreds of tutorials on YouTube aimed at alleviating the burden of private tuition. The partnership is aimed at grade 11 and 12 students.
Duroosi, or "my studies" in Arabic, is a YouTube channel with 600 tutorials, covering a variety of subjects, and intended to help families cut back on the high cost of private tuition.
This is the first time that Google, which owns YouTube, has partnered with an education ministry in the region to develop a dedicated channel on YouTube.
The Ministry of Education scanned all the important topics for grades 11 and 12 and brought the material to Etisalat, which produced the YouTube videos in Arabic.
This is Etisalat's first e-education project and the company is also looking to develop similar tutorials for other age groups.
"Duroosi will revolutionise conventional education tools by providing instant and convenient options of learning. Students with access to technology nowadays want information at their fingertips," said Saleh Al Abdooli, chief executive of Etisalat UAE. "The project is also unique in that it allowed us to unite government and private players for a cause of national importance." A Google executive said Duroosi will be easy to use and should prove popular.
"These things are usually successful, users can access this curriculum from anywhere in the world on any device. You don't need to wait till you get back home to open the book. You have it in a very interactive format with visual aids and you can go at your own pace and repeat it," said Mohamad Mourad, managing director of Google Middle East and North Africa. "The unique thing about this programme is it is endorsed by the Ministry of Education, this is only the starting point in bringing more and more [Arabic] content." Humaid Mohammed Obaid Al Qatami, the Minister of Education, said Duroosi points the way ahead.
"Smart education is a key priority for the government and advanced infrastructure will play a critical role in the achievement of this mission. Such strategic partnerships and unique talent development tools are critical for establishing a knowledge-based, sustainable UAE in the near future," Mr Al Qatami said.
A raft of reform initiatives by the Ministry of Education were taking root, while preparations were being made to face new challenges ahead.
From e-lessons, smart learning programme, new teacher's codes and evaluation systems as well as curriculum revision, the ministry continued to implement large scale reform programmes in public education.
Through multi-pronged reform programmes, the ministry's overall goal is to bring qualitative improvement in the education system, which refers to the way teachers are teaching as well as the way students are learning.
Mohammad bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme Among the major initiatives taken shape in 2012 was the Mohammad bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme that was launched in April by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The programme, which is intended to transform the way education is imparted, is being implemented in a phased manner, with a pilot phase is currently underway.
The pilot is going really well with Grade 7 students from eight public schools, involving around 60 teachers and 700 students. The goal is to explore the implementation of information and communications technology (ICT) in delivering quality education and build a sustainable model of ICT-enabled education system.
The Dh1 billion programme is part of the UAE Vision 2021 and will be introduced in four stages over five years, covering all public schools.
Preparing the schools for the goal, the ministry in association with Etisalat is equipping around 400 campuses with the latest 4G networks, e-boards, smart tablets as well as e-contents, including textbooks on iPhones, iPads and android platforms. The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Smart Learning; a joint venture between the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in cooperation with the UAE Prime Minister's office, aims to create a solid and integrated e-learning platform that actively involves teachers, students as well as parents, thus enhancing the learning experience.
Sheikh Mohammed emphasised that "Investment in education is an essential component of UAE Vision 2021."We want to provide the new generations with the skills needed for the future. This is our national duty." "We believe that the future of the UAE begins from schools," said Sheikh Mohammed.
The initiative, which is part of the UAE Vision 2021, is set to shape a new learning environment in public schools through the launch of smart classes that will provide every student with an electronic tablet and access to high speed 4G networks, by 2017.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was inked in Feb. 2013 between the UAE's education initiative, Smart Learning and Samsung Gulf Electronics at BETT, the world's largest learning technology conference, in London.
The MoU outlines a framework for Smart Learning to tap into Samsung's innovative digital convergence technologies to enhance its business process efficiencies, and ultimately, create a world-class educational environment in the UAE. This follows Samsung's successful involvement in the first phase of the pilot project for the 'Mohammad bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme in 2012'.
MoU with Samsung underlines Smart Learning's commitment to continue to revolutionize the educational landscape in the UAE through technology-based learning. Working closely with Smart Learning, Samsung will provide technological expertise, design, develop, deploy proof of concepts and implement solutions aimed at improving the delivery of Smart Learning's services and initiatives within the UAE and internationally.
Another major initiative was the teachers' charter which indicates the principles of conduct in a classroom as well as enumerating the moral and ethical role of teachers.
"It stresses on a teacher's commitment to student's learning. It is a message for society that the teachers are motivated and accountable. The charter has been distributed among the schools and regular workshops were conducted to help teachers adopt the principles.
With an eye on bringing about comprehensive transformation in school environment, the ministry also started the School Leadership Programme, where principals, vice principals and supervisors of various schools are handpicked to enrol in a nine-month training programme that prepares them for proactive instructional leadership of future generation.
School Leadership Development Project (SLP): The Ministry of Education and the Pearson Company, provider of education solutions, announced that they will send 30 educators for an advanced training program in the United Kingdom. The training program is about the development of school leadership as well as the best international administrative practices. The course is an opportunity for all the participants to view the School Leadership Development Project (SLP) which is implemented by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Pearson International Group.
The School Leadership Development Project targets over 700 Emirati teachers, supervisors, and school principals.
The project will help in improving the educational quality while upgrading it to international standards. The project also helps in achieving the following objectives: raise the administrative and leadership abilities for the educational field leaders, provide the best training opportunities, improve the quality of advanced training for the school leaders, and prepare qualified assistants in the school leadership field.
This will help in enhancing their professional and leadership skills in order to keep up with the ongoing school developments and implement the ministry's plans and project according to the approved levels.
The idea is to enable them to lead reform and school-based improvement on their own.
UAE second highest in students' happiness index The PISA 2012 results showed 85 per cent of Dubai's students reported that they are happy at their schools, above the global average of 80 per cent.
Students in UAE schools are much happier than their counterparts in the UK and USA, according to the results of a new global study. The happiness index for students conducted as part of the global Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluation ranked the UAE second highest in the Middle East.
More than 500,000 students in 65 countries, representing 80 per cent of the world economy, were included in the study and the UAE ranked well above the global happiness average. The study is conducted once every three years, with each round adopting a major focus on one set of learning skills.
The PISA 2012 results showed 85 per cent of Dubai's students reported that they are happy at their schools, above the global average of 80 per cent. These ratings take into account a range of factors including teacher satisfaction, student confidence and the impact of extracurricular activities on education.
The PISA 2012 assessment focused on mathematics, with reading, science and problem-solving included in the minor areas.
School Olympic Games Project: The Cabinet has approved the School Olympic Games Project, which is aimed to increase participation of school students in sports activities and discovering and nurturing sports talents.
The School Olympic Games Project also aims to prepare a new generation of Olympic athletes, promote Olympic knowledge and principles and raise awareness of the significance of physical training as a way to preserve good health.
Sheikh Mohammed stressed that "sports at schools must be an integral part of the daily lifestyle of our sons and of their personalities and physical and psychological health. Their health is a top priority and we want our schools to aspire for reaching international podiums through nurturing and supporting talents and coordinating the effort with relevant sports federations without affecting the students' academic performance and excellence.' "Preparing for international championships starts at elementary schools and ends up with honours on international podiums. Based on sound planning and carefully studied work, the UAE is capable of taking its place at Olympic championships," Sheikh Mohammed said.
The project provides for launching sports contests at all public schools across the country, the creation of sports federations in educational zones to prepare talented students as per Olympic regulations to qualify for school Olympic games finals. This includes all under-18 students enrolled in public schools.
Also, the project provides for setting up sports centres in educational zones for continuous training and polishing skills according to technical plans approved by the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and in partnership with the member federations. It also mandates an educational programme to raise awareness of the significance of sports for public health in schools as well as to promote sports culture among students, teaching staff and members of administrative staff of schools.
School Health Education: Project In December, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced its upcoming School Health Education project, aimed at increasing UAE school students' awareness on how to lead a healthy lifestyle in partnership with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, SEHA Ambulatory Health Services (SEHA) and du.
This pilot project will run for one year in 18 government secondary schools across the UAE, with two in each of the emirates, Al Ain and the Western Region.
The School Health Education Project addresses the challenges in delivering health education to students and promotes the use of active, participatory learning activities for developing knowledge, attitudes and skills for students to make healthy choices.
Focus group discussions with school nurses and data collected from the health authorities will determine the health issues and behaviours, as well as the availability of capacities and resources in schools. Based on this, a manual for the delivery of health education workshops using a skills-based approach will be developed.
Alongside the development of participatory teaching methods for health education topics, as set by the Ministry of Health and SEHA, the programme will train school nurses to effectively apply this approach in the delivery of these sessions to students. Finally, this should lead to the development of an action plan to mainstream the skills-based health education programme across all government secondary schools in the UAE.
As capacity development is considered an essential component of every programme, this programme has been focused on building the capacity of all workers in health and education services especially school nurses and coordinators of schools activities.
One of the ministry's goals is to promote activities which develop life skills for students in order to create a healthy generation of students as they represent a significant proportion of the community as they are a quarter of the population.
Student's health record: The ministry has also rolled out the student e-health record which charts the health history of the student, and results of his routine medical examinations like blood and eye tests and vaccinations he took from kindergarten to secondary school level. The school health screening mandates that all children are screened annually for health concerns, including a simple vision, height, weight, body mass index (BMI).
Cabinet Retreat on Education: After reviewing 65,000 suggestions from the public on how to improve the nation's education system, the Cabinet Retreat last month adopted a range of measures including: Scrapping the preparatory year at university and developing subjects at secondary school level to match university requirements.
Making teaching a more attractive option, with career progression and incentives.
A licensing system, similar to that in western countries, for those who want to become teachers.
A new system for evaluating and ranking universities.
Assessment of educational performance at nurseries.
Ridding the need for students to choose between science and arts streams early in secondary school.
"The UAE will never cease, even for one day, its quest for continuous development," Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said at the session. "If it had done, we could not have reached what we are today.
"The UAE competitiveness edge in all fields is inspired by new ideas, sustained development and innovation. This represents a firm principle in the government action."