Beyond tomorrow

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The UAE's Madares Al Ghad (Schools of Tomorrow) reforms programme has been plagued with problems since its launch last year. But Yousef Al Shehhi, principal of Al Rams boys secondary school in Ras Al Khaimah, has no doubt it's working.

How has your school changed since Madares Al Ghad?

Everyone thinks we've changed everything inside the school, but we just changed the English curriculum. Last year the ministry of education provided us with a teacher mentor, a principal advisor and a school team leader for English. We also got new computers for the students and new classroom furniture.

What challenges have you faced in the programme?

We've had problems with assessment. We assess our students differently to other government schools. My students' skills are better than other students' skills, because this is what we are teaching them, but other students do better than mine in terms of grades.

At other schools, teachers assess the students based on research projects, effort, speaking, and other things. And all this is determined by the teachers - they record the grades. But in our school, we concentrate on the level rather than the grade. The students do all the work; this is what makes the difference between the grades of my students and other schools.

The teacher does not determine a single grade for the student. Our teachers go into the classroom to observe the students, to check that they are at the right level.

A new programme always has problems, so I can't say we didn't have any, but we've managed to solve them. When this programme was new, nobody accepted it. Teachers didn't accept it because they had to work an hour later than teachers at other schools, and the students didn't accept it either.

Why did teachers have trouble accepting the changes?

It's the education system. Everyone wants to stay in the same place. People were fighting the change; they didn't like to get new ideas. And it's the people that will make this programme a success or a failure, not the programme itself. If I work with quality people it will succeed, but if I decide I don't like the programme, it will fail in one minute.

Has the situation improved since last year?

I have found so much difference in people's attitudes this year. The motivation level of teachers is now very high. They have really accepted the programme, and are willing to learn. All my teachers are now working very hard. They work from the beginning of the period till the end; they're really doing well. They all have their own classrooms, their own computers and desks, so they're very happy.

Has the programme improved your students' English?

Before Madares Al Ghad we used to have six periods a week for all classes, for all levels. But now, students get ten periods a week in English. My students have achieved so much.

Before, we used to only work with books from the Ministry of Education, but now we're using many things. We are really working on developing skills, and this is the most important thing we can give our students.

The students are now doing all the work, not the teachers. The teachers are just a guide in the classroom. Most of my students were very, very weak in English, I would never find them speaking English. But now I see them, they are working so hard - they're working with the teachers - reading, writing, and they are speaking as well.

We have given them the chance, the ability to do these things. Things have improved so much this year, everyone is really happy with their work.

Have you found the programme rewarding so far?

Yes, very much. I am working for my country because my students are the future, they are the ones who will run the country. We have to provide them with everything they need for university; for all their lives.

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