Saki Milton Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: “The greatest challenges of teaching and learning are already upon us. As we go deeper into a technologically advanced society, humans must outperform robots by completing tasks they cannot do,” says Saki Milton, Dubai-based US Schools Portfolio manager for Pearson Education Middle East.

According to her, traditional teaching practices are being phased out to prepare students for a fast-changing world, including new areas of focus such as emotional intelligence, project-based learning, and social skills, an education expert said.

“Many recent studies show clearly that the old-style teaching and learning is dwindling. Today, kids and adults alike can learn what’s necessary from a five-minute YouTube video. Since this is the case, international trends in teaching and learning reflect the much-needed change to prepare students for the future they will live in,” said Milton.

In the ‘2017 Future of Skills’ report from Pearson Education, the 2030 employability landscape in the US and UK was examined. The report concluded that the top ten skills, abilities and knowledge areas associated with future occupations emphasise the importance of social and emotional learning, critical thinking and “learning to learn” – many of which are not addressed by the traditional style of teaching, said Milton.

Therefore, new methodologies such as project-based learning (PBL) are the need of the hour, she added. “They are more telling of students’ understanding of a set of learning outcomes than traditional paper and pen exams. The new methodology teaches students to plan, organise, question, reflect, identify and use resources independently in order to obtain knowledge. In the long-run, such students do better in universities. It also helps them develop critical-thinking and creative skills.”

Pros and cons of traditional teaching methods

Traditional method is classroom-based and relies on lectures and direct instructions from the teacher to students. The emphasis is on learning through the teacher’s guidance. Students are expected to pay attention to lectures and learn from them. While this style has been around for years, it comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Advantages: The old style of teaching may work well for certain higher-education disciplines and with big groups of students in an auditorium setting. In fact, it may even be the most suitable for subjects like history, which call for the memorisation of dates, events, names of people and more,” Saki said.

Disadvantages: “Teachers are focused on imparting knowledge but not on teaching students to learn. As a result, students look to their teachers for solutions for everything and not much effort is made at independent research and thinking.

Old-style teaching also relies heavily on the rote learning. This suppresses the creative side of students’ personalities. They merely absorb what is being taught in class and become passive listeners rather than active learners.

Traditional teaching, by and large, excludes the use of technology, which undisputedly makes learning better, more fun and interactive.”

How are schools in the UAE trying to keep up with the changes?

Milton said the UAE “is already ahead of the curve”, drawing attention to the Ministry of Education’s has development of an Education 2020 strategy, which is a series of ambitious five-year plans designed to bring significant qualitative improvement in the education system, especially in the way teachers teach and students learn.

Smart learning programmes, new teachers’ codes, licensing and evaluations systems, as well as curriculum revision, including teaching math and science in English, are all part of the strategy.

Milton added: “Similarly, because of large investments in education already made in the UAE, the country is in a strong position to experiment with new instructional models such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, or even online schools such as Pearson’s International Connections Academy. Rewarding edTech entrepreneurs to invest in new age educational practices in tremendously culturally-diverse learning environments such as ours, will help position the UAE to develop its own hub of educational innovation and research for other nations to follow.”