190129 uae education
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Let’s welcome the disruption. One private school in Dubai has decided to reduce the school week from five to 3.5 days for its Grade 11 and 12 students to allow them to explore and expand their interests. The remaining 1.5 days will be devoted to the student pursuing activities of his or her liking outside of the classroom, a process that will be subject to monitoring and empirical outcomes.

This indeed is the evolution of education taking place in observable time in the UAE, opening the doors to an opportunity for students to benefit from a more personalised, immersive and freedom-driven experience that is away from the schedule of academic pressures. Pedagogical experts have long held that the two streams are not mutually exclusive and that the very purpose of education is to offer a seamless merger of the two. Now, with this reinvigorating departure from the norm, the stirrings of a new era in education are making themselves felt.

This move, fully endorsed by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority as part of the Rahhal initiative under the 10X programme of Dubai Future Foundation, is leading the change in what has been a long-discussed area in school traditions.

The UAE has been continually emphasising its aim of developing a first-rate education system. What does this really mean? Pared down to its basics, it means that schools must offer the kind of learning that is dynamic as opposed to stratified, thought-provoking as opposed to didactic and expansive as opposed to classroom-confined. And how can they do that? By acknowledging that teaching is not only about the flow of information from the expert to the novice; that it is also about letting the pursuit of an interest by a student become a learning lesson. The reduction of the school week for this purpose is therefore, in effect, the redefinition of the teaching method in practice.

The merit of the initiative is also in the fact that the time off for students will be spent in quantifiable, observable ways rather than remain an undefined downtime. Whether it is music, languages, sport or dramatics, a few hours spent on targeted recreational pursuits every week can have a calculable payoff for a student’s mental, emotional and cognitive growth, and as research has proved time and again, such recreational advantages could also improve academic performance.

It would be exciting to see more schools getting disruptive and more students in the UAE being offered opportunities to rechart their journey of discovery anew.