Abu Dhabi: State pupils ’ English skills delay degr ee programmes

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Feb 5 17:03:39 UTC 2009

State pupils' English skills delay degree programmes
Daniel Bardsley

Last Updated: February 03. 2009 9:30AM UAE / February 3. 2009 5:30AM
GMT A substantial number of pupils in state schools applying to
university do not have the English-language skills required to begin
degree studies, college administrators say. Expressing concern over
the time and money taken up by university preparatory courses, they
are urging secondary schools to spend more time teaching English.
Sandra Zaher, the director of the English Language Institute at Abu
Dhabi University, which has campuses in the capital and Al Ain, said
she saw a big difference between the English abilities of students
educated at private and state schools. Among private school pupils
joining ADU, she said, 81 per cent could begin degree studies
immediately without extra English tuition. Among those who attended
state schools, the figure is less than a quarter.

"It's a big issue because it delays their university," she said. "It
delays their studies by a year, a year-and-a-half or two years."

At Al Hosn University, another private university in the capital, the
vice chancellor, Prof Abdul Sabouni, said more than half of high
school graduates needed extra English tutoring.

"I believe this is the biggest single impediment to students who are
seeking undergraduate or graduate university education," he said.
"It's a fact of life here that many students from public and private
schools don't have the required English language."

Prof Sabouni recommended that intensive English-language preparation
be introduced in the last two years of school.

Before they leave, he said, secondary schools should have students
take examinations such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language

Universities generally require students attain a certain grade in such
tests before allowing them to begin their degree studies.

"It's the only way we can solve it, because students are coming here
and they're spending about a semester or a year on average with
English preparation," he said.

The federal universities, Zayed University, UAE University and the
Higher Colleges of Technology, spend one third of their budgets on
preparatory courses, most of them in English. Dr Daniel Johnson, the
provost at Zayed, said attaining good English-language skills was "the
biggest challenge for many students" who joined the university.

"It's so closely tied to success in other areas," he said.

Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) ran free
English training last summer for about 300 students about to begin

Other initiatives have also been launched, although only a small
fraction of government schools have been involved so far. Four years
ago, the Abu Dhabi Education Council launched public-private
partnership schools where English is the medium of instruction for
mathematics and science. And in late 2007 the Ministry of Education
created 50 Madares al Ghad, or Schools of the Future, which also
feature more lessons in English.

Dr Vincent Ferrandino, the ministry's policy and planning director,
said there was no quick-fix.

"I think the initiatives in place are going to make a difference in
the English-language ability of students, but it's going to take
time," he said. "They have only been in place for a year. I think with
a period of time you will see some improvement in English skills."

Dr Ferrandino said the Minister of Education, Dr Hanif Hassan, was
keen for the Ghad programme to expand and that within a year there
would be a "pretty rapid" increase in the number of schools involved.

More than 40 per cent of Emirati children are educated privately,
despite public schools' being free, largely because parents are
worried about standards at government schools and fear their children
will not learn English adequately.

This has resulted in some Emiratis at English-medium schools losing
fluency in Arabic, raising concerns over a loss of national identity.

According to Dr Clifton Chadwick, a senior lecturer in international
education management and policy development at the British University
in Dubai, the English-language problem is "widely felt" by parents and
the authorities.

Poor English teaching in government schools is a major factor in
driving Emirati parents to take their children out of the state system
and pay for them to attend private schools.

"The level of awareness of the problem is very high," he said, "but
the ability to bring about significant change is limited."

Dr Chadwick said reforms would be more effective if teachers were
offered better incentives contingent upon the success of their

dbardsley at thenational.ae


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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