By Andy Sambidge
Education chiefs launch new research group to investigate high number of Dubai drop outs.
A panel of experts is being set up to examine the reasons why nearly a quarter of male Emirati students drop out of school.
The focus group will be tasked with coming up with solutions to the issue, which also sees 14 percent of female Emiratis in Dubai failing to complete their education.
Essa Al Mulla, executive director for Workforce National Development of Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), said: “The focus group needs to look for solutions that are practical and easily implemented, so results can be seen sooner rather than later.”
The setting up of the focus group was recommended at a meeting hosted by the Dubai School of Government (DSG) and attended by representatives from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai School of Government, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Affairs, Community Development Authority and Dubai Police.
Dr Tarik Yousef, Dean of the Dubai School of Government added: “The lack of a strong education system is acknowledged as one of the most significant challenges faced by the Arab world – a fact that is validated by the alarming rate of high school drop-outs in our societies."
Perhaps its the apathy and uselessness a lot of youngsters feel when they see their older brothers and sisters struggling to get a foothold in the system. A lack of government jobs, private sector jobs which don't offer the same levels of benefits, and a depressed jobs market, where even the super qualified are now struggling to hold down their places. It's that, or they think that they don't require the qualifications because Daddy will be there to bail them out - which ever, there is not enough incentive for them to continue studying and they are not quite at grips with reality. Don't get me wrong, I know a number of national students who make tremendous efforts. and will make a fine addition to the UAE workforce, but much like any nation, there will always be those who aren't built for academia - perhaps the next Richard Branson is among them?
Why would it take a panel of experts to work out why there is a 68% dropout rate when this same authority has the answer under it's research already? The school inspections which revealed that only 25% of schools come up to standard is the basic reason. Couple this with the fact that 85% of students study at private schools where the minimum salary for teachers is 2500 Dhs per month as set by the MOE and you have a perfect formula for failure of students. If the school cannot deliver the required standard and the teachers hired are substandard because qualified teachers refuse to work for less than a secretary gets it does not take a panel of experts to realise where the problem lies. Until there is a regularory body for all schools that ensures the curriculum matches the requirement for students to transition easily from secondary level to university ( which means that entrance requirements of TOEFL IELTS and SATS can easily be achieved by the majority of students ) teaching is done in English instead of being translated into Arabic to reflect the language of instruction at university and higher colleges of technology requirements, then of course students willot be able to achieve the standards required for them to complete their education dreams successfully. Hence the drop-out rate. As an educator I have seen the poor results of students coming through the system - with students in Grades 10 - 12 not even able to write an essay without plagiarising it from the internet, and students who are not capable of achievign even 35 for IBT TOEFL or 3.5 band in IELTS. You get what you pay for - if you want to lift the standard increase the basic salary to at least 8000 dhs - then you may get teachers to teach in the schools where it matters most - primary and secondary level. This is not reflective of the salaries received by nationals in the education system, but there are not enough of them to fill the required positions - and therefore there needs to be expatriate teachers to fill the gap. Finally, until education becomes just that and not a business enterprise as it is in the emirates, then the standards will be ignored in favor of profit margins to the detriment of the UAE students.
A focus group is a good idea. Conducting a focus group activity or a Delphi exercise (questions out, given back, summarized and sent back out) before a strategy meeting is a way to gather opinions in preparation for discussion and consensus. Focus groups aim to gather "honest, sincere, transparent, and candid information from the participants. This requires a promise that the comments made will not be attributed to any one person, and that "speculative" comments (generated by the sharing of ideas and concerns) will not be taken as group "conclusions" and the personal beliefs of any participant. I would suggest separate focus groups (or confidential surveys) for each of the major stakeholders; students (separate for those who graduate and those who drop out), teachers (different grades, for male and female, public and private), college and university entrance officials, instructors, and senior management, education "experts" and consultants, senior Emirati leaders tasked for Education, Emiratization, Industry, Islamic studies, and culture protection, parents of both male and female Emirati students. This information must be confidential as to the individual comments. The focus groups must be conducted by professionals who are vetted for their ability, knowledge, and experience. Notes must be summarized and all the results distributed to all Media and the participants in the focus groups. Although a public debate would be interesting, a more appropriate method for the UAE would be a structured strategic "meeting", (see The Change Handbook, ISBN-10: 1-57675-379-8 and in particular the "Open Space" method), involving all stakeholders. The goal? To gather and return (and publicize?) all all information to strategic meeting participants, engage participants if a short term, intense, time limited discussion, and then commit to methods of implementation. This must be a transparent process, the success of which is measured only by the result of the implementation process. Both male and female students may be losing out because of poor advice given to government, poor educational standards, ineffective, un-motivated, and unskilled teachers. I believe that change only happens when those at the top support the change and those implementing the change are given the opportunity to voice their ideas, discuss those ideas, and together reach consensus on the "problem(s)" and the best methods to achieve agreed to objectives. A family, a business, a government, a country chooses to either manage a problem (maintain the status quo while "appearing" to be working on a solution) or solve the problem. To date I see "managing" the problem to be the accepted norm. Time for a sincere change.
UAE should look to other countries that have addressed this same issue over the past 50 years, and develop an alternative adult high school system for those who later want to finish high school. I did.