Abu Dhabi: Around 300 pupils are being cooped up in private school villas, fit only to accommodate a family of five, forcing the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) to intervene and start inspections, Gulf News was told during an exclusive interview with Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, the ADEC Director General.
Although the strategy of ADEC will not be released before November, Dr Al Khaili shared the council's plans with Gulf News.
ADEC was set up in September 2005 as an independent corporate body with legal, financial and administrative independence.
ADEC's headquarters are in Abu Dhabi. However, it has the right to set up its branches and offices within or outside the UAE.
"We started inspecting the licensed villas two weeks ago to assess the quality of school facilities. It's not acceptable to place all these pupils in a villa that's meant for a family of five. We want our children, whether expatriates or Emiratis, to have a good education and a pleasant memory of the UAE," said Al Khaili.
During the interview with Gulf News, Al Khaili said ADEC had just signed a contract with an international company to help structure the educational situation nationwide.
Gulf News: What are some of ADEC's upcoming plans?
Dr Al Khaili: We have signed an agreement with an international company to assess our pupils in public schools in November and in April.
Pupils will be assessed on their knowledge in four subjects: Arabic, English, Mathematics and Science. This will help ADEC set a baseline, build plans for the future and work on improving the system.
What are the latest resources that ADEC is banking on?
We are now recruiting English language teachers with bilingual skills, who are going to be teaching the new curriculum introduced by the Ministry of Education. These teachers are highly qualified, coming from Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon.
What is different about the new curriculum?
The new curriculum has a balance between teaching our children our language, heritage and religion. Without strengthening our national identity, we will disappear as a nation. At the same time, we encourage globalisation and stress enhancement of English language skills.
What about private schools?
ADEC, set up by General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, aims to provide all our children - whether expatriates, whose families have helped build the UAE - or Emiratis, an equally high standard of education.
Recently, 25 Iraqi pupils with exceptional grades have been offered a scholarship personally by Shaikh Mohammad.
What has your accomplishment been with ADEC?
Some Emiratis were rejected scholarships in universities last year for failing to meet the expectations. This year, ADEC provided strengthening courses to these pupils, specifically in English and Information Technology, and all 600 have passed and were offered scholarships.
With all these new changes and plans, do you feel any change in the behaviour of the pupils across the emirate?
With any new initiative, change cannot be felt during the first year. We have recruited these teachers this summer and just started the academic year. It's still too early to assess anything.
According to some school principals, fitness training facilities in public schools are very poor. What are your comments on that?
ADEC did not depend on the ministry to build its schools. There were some schools that needed polishing and we have revised and updated the facilities in these schools.
We have also introduced a new sport called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (a martial art) in 12 schools - five each in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi and two in Al Gharbeya, of which two are girls-only schools.
What programmes has ADEC introduced this summer to enhance the knowledge of pupils?
Over 20,000 pupils from public and private schools participated in a summer course called Sayfuna Mumayaz (meaning 'special summer').
It included Arts, Science, Information Technology, social and vocational training and sports. It was offered by 1,000 teachers across 86 centres in three educational zones in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the western region.
Another programme was Summer Abroad, under which, 500 pupils were sent to four different countries - Canada, Britain, New Zealand and the US.
The third programme was the Summer Challenge, where more than 3,800 high school pupils attended a five-week training programme in English, Information Technology, Mathematics, Science and Vocational Education.
A young boy was left to suffocate to his death in a bus last year. What measures are being taken by ADEC to ensure that schools provide safer transportation facilities to the children?
We have recruited 400 Emiratis to supervise children in public school buses. As for private schools, they are responsible for their busses, but I know that they are trying to avoid problems and are doing all they can to keep their pupils safe. If we feel there is a specific complaint or a problem, we will surely intervene.
What is the difference between ADEC and the Abu Dhabi Education Zone?
ADEC plans and takes decisions, while the Abu Dhabi Education Zone is in charge of the implementation process. However, at the end, we both work together as one team.