Ministry, KHDA not 'unified' on school calendar

Parents and schools uncertain over planning holidays, exams

Schools and parents are in the dark as Federal Ministry of Education (MoE) and Dubai’s KHDA go back and forth over the implementation of the unified calendar at private schools in Dubai.

The decision has not yet been finalised, as divergent statements from the MoE and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) show.

“All schools and colleges in the country, except for some Indian and Pakistani schools, are expected to implement the unified calendar from the next academic year onwards, stated the Ministry of Education yesterday.

However, on Sunday May 13, the KHDA announced that it will allow all private schools in Dubai leeway in the implementation of the unified calendar, as long as schools adhere to the minimum amount of school days and instructional hours.

“One-size-fits-all motto for an educational landscape as unique as Dubai’s is not an ideal situation. An educational landscape such as this one requires a certain amount of flexibility in order for it to function in harmony,” stated Mohammed Darwish, Chief of Regulations and Compliance Commission at the KHDA.

“If the KHDA is announcing something different than what the Ministry has decided, that is not our problem,” said Ayoub Habib, Head of Media Relations of the Ministry of Education. “There might be some minor exceptions, but in general all schools are expected to implement the unified calendar for the upcoming academic year.”

The unified calendar was aimed at protecting family bonds and making life easier for families living in the UAE, as students will all have their holidays in the same period.

However, soon after the decision was announced schools voiced concern over the implementation, as different private schools are attached to different education boards across the world, all applying separate examination schedules, visits by the accreditation bodies, external assessment dates and other similar commitments.

Furthermore, the sudden announcement was burdensome for some schools, which had already published the school calendar for the upcoming academic year and parents and teachers had booked tickets for the holidays based on this schedule. In a latest response to questions for clarity, Mohammed Darwish, Chief of Regulations and Compliance Commission (RCC) of KHDA referred to KHDA communication sent to all private schools in Dubai last Thursday May 10.

[Click here to read the latest ratings of Dubai schools]

However, school boards point out that at this point no final decision has been reached and discussions are still ongoing.

“We have not yet informed our teachers, parents and students about the final calendar because we are still in discussion with KHDA,” says a spokesperson at Dubai British School. A spokesperson at American Collegiate School expresses a similar message, saying that nothing is clear yet at this point.

Asked what the consequences will be when implementation of the unified calendar will not be realised with the upcoming academic year, Ayoub of the MoE answered that this is yet to be discussed. “At this point, we have not yet decided what the consequences will be in such case.”

In the emirate of Abu Dhabi, implementation of the unified calendar has been confirmed by all private schools. There are no reports of any difficulties in other emirates, confirmed Ayoub.

No school has yet applied for fee hike: KHDA

Although the education regulatory authority Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) has approved the fee hike for this academic year, Dubai schools are yet to file for the mark-up.

“We are yet to receive any applications,” said Mohammed Darwish, Chief of Regulations and Compliance Commission (RCC) of KHDA.

The educational institutions, he elaborated, can apply for the fee increase only after the results of the school inspection are out.

“The Indian and Pakistani schools already have their results now and can apply within 30 days of receiving the communication from KHDA,” he added.

The process, however, will differ for schools, which marks the beginning of the academic year in September. “(Those) schools can only apply once the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) has publicly announced the results.”

Detailing the process, Darwish explained, “Depending on the nature of the request and the level of analysis required, processing time for fee applications may take between 5 and 15 working days.”

The decision of whether to hike or not, the KHDA clarified, lies with the schools. “Schools may or may not choose to increase fees. This decision lies with the schools themselves. However, once they have chosen to increase fees and apply to KHDA, they can only do so in line with KHDA’s approval,” he explained.

The KHDA framework also directed

the schools “to handle all parental input and queries that are connected with the increases that are in line with the fee framework”.

The move to raise school fees has created quite a stir, with parents rejecting the decision by stating it’s unfair to overburden them at a time of economic uncertainty and the schools backing it by affirming that it’ll help upgrade the quality of education.

As per the KHDA guidelines, the increase will be determined based on the inspection grading and the Educational Cost Index (ECI), devised by the Dubai Statistics Centre. Schools that are rated outstanding will be allowed 6 per cent increase, while schools marked good allowed 4.5 per cent, and those listed as satisfactory and unsatisfactory allowed 3 per cent.

Also, this could become an annual exercise, with schools permitted to apply for a fee increase again next year, but only within the criteria set by the KHDA.

The framework elaborated that some schools could even get special KHDA permission to hike more than 6 per cent. And those that will be considered under this bracket are the not-for-profit, embassy and special needs schools and also those investing in infrastructure expansion. The permission, if granted, would mean those schools will have to cap the hike for the next three years.

The fee hike is also disallowed for new schools and will be applicable only after it has clocked three years.

Dubai school fee had remained constant for the last two years following a government decision, and only a few, who obtained the nod from the Ministry of Education, were exempted.

Dubai private schools 'failing' students in Arabic

While most Dubai students might be able to fluently read and write Arabic, and even pass exams with flying colours, very few can actually converse in the language outside their classroom.

This is what the recent Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) report has substantiated.

Students, despite, learning Arabic, as a second language, aren’t able to grasp the nuances of the language.

While experts agreed that the curriculum needs an innovative make-over, they believe the onus should lie with the schools.

“As a first language, with the curriculum set by the Ministry of Education, Arabic is good, but a lot needs to be done with the second-language curriculum,” reported DSIB chief Jameela Al Muhairi, adding that when she recently visited an Indian school, a student was able to read in Arabic fluently, but went blank when asked to explain its meaning.

“We want to shift this mentality, so that students can use it. It’s not enough that they just read and pass exams,” she added.

Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director General of KHDA, admitted that there are challenges but schools must devise ways to overcome this flaw.

“Yes, there are many challenges. Where do you get the teachers for Arabic? But, many schools (like the ones graded “outstanding”) have shown creative ways of overcoming it. These schools, didn’t give in to the challenges, but innovated on it.”

Jameela elucidated how the “outstanding” schools developed interesting strategies to make Arabic exciting for the children.

“You don’t want to be boring when you teach Arabic. And, this is what we allow the schools to do. They can set their standard and, this is what we measure.

“For Arabic as the first language, they have to follow the standard set by the Ministry of Education,” she elaborated.

The progress, she believed, will shift gradually and could take a few years, adding that the challenges are similar for Arabic students who learn English as a second language.

The DSIB report observed that students make less rapid progress in Islamic Education and Arabic, than in other key subjects, with the “outstanding” schools showcasing how they take steps to improve the quality of teaching and learning and check the timetables, annually, to ensure it is in compliance with the Ministry of Education regulations.

While most schools, even those “outstanding” ones, reported that the challenges escalate when they are teaching children from different nationalities, many have devised ways of restricting the curriculum to overcome it.

“We’ve chalked out practices like videoing (Arabic) lessons, and have developed and resourced the curriculum internally.

“It is then shared with the Ministry and with other schools.

“There are enrichment programmes, recitation clubs, and the progress is then relayed to the parents,” explained Emma Leigh-Bennett - Head of Secondary at Wellington International School.

“And we give our Arabic teachers additional time to plan their work and share the resourcing.

“We are also looking at reducing the class sizes to ensure better focus.”

Most parents, however, told DSIB about their dissatisfaction over the way their children learnt Arabic (as a second language).

Even, students, who were interviewed, claimed their progress in Arabic was not strong as in other subjects.

“I feel that Arabic is not developed well. It is not taught in the right way. Even my friends complain about it,” a student told DSIB.

Some key findings in the DSIB report

- The degree of improvement in students’ progress in Arabic, over the four year inspection period, continues to be considerably less than in other key subjects.

- A significant minority of private schools still fail to meet the Ministry of Education requirements for Islamic Education and Arabic.

- There are a few schools that fail to ensure that first language Arabic students follow the correct programme. These students are taught as additional language learners, which means they are often not challenged to reach the required levels in their mother tongue.

- In most UK schools, students’ progress in Arabic as a first and as an additional language has improved this year. However, overall, students’ performance in Arabic is not as good as in other subjects.

- Despite some improvements in students’ attainment in Arabic as a first or additional language, in the majority of US schools attainment levels in most key subjects remained stable in 2011-12.

- Under the Indian curriculum, students’ attainment in Arabic as an additional language is far lower than all other key subjects. The majority of students learning Arabic as an additional language achieve only acceptable levels of attainment despite several years of study.

- Teaching, and consequently attainment and progress, in Islamic Education and Arabic have improved in most IB curriculum schools.

- In schools offering French curriculum, the relatively high achievement of students in the key subjects of French, English, Science and Mathematics is not matched with equal success in Arabic.

- All Iranian schools provide an acceptable curriculum based on the Iranian National curriculum. However, the UAE MOE requirements regarding Islamic Education and Arabic are not met.

The curriculum is narrow in these schools, especially for higher attaining students with a lack of choice in subjects. The curriculum lacks enrichment, cross-curricular opportunities and real life links.

Dubai allows private schools to hike fees between 3 to 6%

 

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