Monday, March 28, 2016

Education Around the World: United Arab Emirates

"The real asset of any advanced nation is its people, especially the educated ones, and the prosperity and success of the people are measured by the standard of their education."
-- Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Let’s travel to a part of the world that has not yet been spotlighted in my continuing series about education in other countries!  Susan from Teaching Doodles is an American who teaches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  She offers a comprehensive look at the education system in that country and what it is like to work there. 
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Location of the United Arab Emirates, highlighted; source: The CIA World Factbook
In her own words:

School Calendar
Because the UAE is part of the Middle East and an Islamic country, our calendar can often vary throughout the year due to holidays being observed based on moon cycles. Generally, school starts at the end of August and ends at the beginning of July. This year we are scheduled to have six weeks for summer, two weeks at Christmas (plus one week of professional development) and one week for Spring (with an additional week for professional development). There are other holidays that allow a day or two off throughout the year such as National Day, Martyr's Day, Eid, and Ramadan.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
A field trip to a student's camel farm; source: Teaching Doodles
School is a five-day week but is Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday off.  Schools are closed on Friday because it is the Muslim day for prayer.  To see some United Arab Emirates-specific pictures, students might enjoy my bilingual Arabic and English UAE Calendar Kit.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Click HERE for more information this resource by Teaching Doodles
General Information about the Public Schools
Most local students, referred to as Emirati, attend public schools. The majority of the workers here are expats and their children attend private schools or homeschool. The public schools are also considered religious. There is often prayer practice and studies throughout the day and they are taught Islamic Studies.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.

Map of the United Arab Emirates; source: The CIA World Factbook
School begins in kindergarten, which is referred to as KG. There are two grades in KG: KG1 and KG2. KG1 is similar to preschool and has mostly ages 3-4. KG2 is like regular kindergarten and is prep for grade 1. Grade 1 begins the Cycle 1 school system which covers grades 1-5. Then students go on to Cycle 2 which would be like middle school and Cycle 3 for high school. Then hopefully they will attend university. Ages are not as important here when determining proper grade levels and birthdays are not usually celebrated so I am not sure about the age breakdowns for the grades.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Students wear school uniforms--dresses for girls, shirts and dress pants for boys; source: Teaching Doodles
A Typical Day
I teach in a public government school.  Currently, I teach Grade 2.  The ages are approximately the same as the United States, with a few exceptions.

A typical day in KG is much different than a day in Cycle 1. Only in KG do students receive dual language instruction (in Arabic and English) throughout the day, with the exception of Islamic Studies which is only in Arabic.  I have a blog post that details a typical day in KG here.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi--a truly amazing place to visit in person; source: Teaching Doodles
For Cycle 1, the EMT (English Medium Teacher) has two full classes of students for a total of six periods a day; each period is 45 minutes. The AMT (Arabic Medium Teacher) may only have two or three periods of teaching a day with the same group of students as her EMT partner. For example, I have an A and a B class. Class A will come to me for Periods 1, 2, and 3 where I will teach English, Math, and Science. Then they will have a short 15 minute snack/play time and go to a specials class or the AMT (Arabic teacher). I will have a 40-minute break at this time to prepare for the next group of students. Class B will see me for Periods 5, 6, and 7 where I will repeat the same lessons I taught for Class A in English, Math, and Science. Then I walk them to the bus area for dismissal. Twice a week we will have professional development after school, for a total of three hours each week.

Curriculum and Assessment
There is a national curriculum we must follow that is loosely based on the British curriculum and New South Wales curriculum. As an American abroad, I also find many similarities to the Common Core in the standards, or outcomes as they are referred to here. Students are taught English, Math, and Science in the English language only (for Grade 1 through Cycle 3 or high school) and also receive studies in Islamic, civics, and Arabic. My first two years here, we were given outcomes to follow but not materials or basals. This year we have reading, science, and math books which are often supplemented to meet students' needs.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
The Burj al Arab in Dubai; source: Teaching Doodles
Students are required to take the national exam called EMSA starting in Grade 3. It covers English, Math, Science, and Arabic and is given in both written languages (Arabic and English) for Math and Science.  That is, the test is written bilingually for math and science and students must choose to read and respond using only one language throughout the test.

Teaching English
English is taught as if it is a native language; however, it is a foreign language for all the students I teach. The expectation of the Abu Dhabi Education Council is to teach the required outcomes to students using the English language but not to be teaching English as if it is a foreign language. As you can imagine, this presents a series of unique and challenging circumstances in the classroom.  My Number Posters, as a result, are in both Arabic and English.

Currently there is no special training to be a teacher of the English language. My job title is EMT which stands for English Medium Teacher. All students refer to teachers by "Miss" and their first name, which takes some getting used to!
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Teaching Doodle's school--brand new this year; source: Teaching Doodles
All teachers must hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Because the UAE is in an educational reform, most of their hiring is done out of the country and they only require the training of your native country to be acceptable for a teaching position here. Throughout the year, teachers (Arabic and English teachers) complete many hours of professional development training each week.

Final Thoughts
Teaching abroad here can be quite a difficult and challenging situation. Many teachers often leave before their two-year contract is fulfilled due to these challenges.  Being a teacher in the UAE has been a remarkable experience.  It has really opened my eyes to other nationalities and beliefs I did not know much about before moving here.  The UAE is a true melting pot and is quite respectful of others and their religion.  It's a journey that I am truly glad to have taken.
Learn about education in the United Arab Emirates as experienced by an American teaching there.
Flag of the United Arab Emirates; source: The CIA World Factbook
To see some great photos of her school and read more about her teaching, please check out Susan’s blog, Teaching Doddles: Adventures Abroad in the UAE.  And you can find lots of examples of her students’ work on her Instagram account.  Since I've never been to the Middle East, I have certainly learned a lot from this blog post.  Thank you very much, Susan, for sharing your knowledge about education in the United Arab Emirates!

I invite you to read the previous Education Around the World guest posts about Scotland, Quebec, and South Africa.  And please stop by again next month for another post in this continuing series!

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