The dark room is a bright and colourful space. Students are encouraged to drop in and take a break to refocus their mind and body. Sarah Hodgson, Head of Primary Learning Support, Deira International School (DIS), describes it as a “calm zone” for students who might sometimes find traditional classrooms to be overwhelming.
DIS has also created a large “movement area” on the school premises. The idea is to take learning outside the classroom, while keeping students active and receptive to fresh ideas. “All of these spaces have positively impacted children’s behaviour towards learning within the classroom,” explains Hodgson.
The idea is to take learning outside the classroom, while keeping students active and receptive to fresh ideas. All of these spaces have positively impacted children’s behaviour towards learning within the classroom.
Schools in the UAE have been taking innovative approaches to education — teaching and learning are no longer about following the books.
“In the fiercely competitive market, schools are under great pressure to come up with unique selling points that provide pupils with experiences beyond the norm,” explains Gaynor Dale, Principal of Regent International School.
So, apart from ensuring that the curriculum fulfils KHDA’s statutory requirements, schools have been working towards providing engaging and enjoyable experiences that are relevant, rigorous and purposeful.
“Enquiry and project-based based learning are taking a new direction with the implementation of technology and the increasing focus on mastery and depth in the post-2014 curriculum,” says Dale, observing that this approach prepares children for their future in the truest sense and allows them to apply skills and intelligence not even visible on a curriculum guidance document.
Enquiry and project-based based learning are taking a new direction with the implementation of technology and the increasing focus on mastery and depth in the post-2014 curriculum.
This shift towards student-centric learning also means that the teacher has now become more of a facilitator who no longer teaches for children to remember and regurgitate or simply apply to the appropriate test. Instead, schools, such as Regent, leverage the principles of Bloom's Taxonomy, where teachers teach students how to think effectively, how to use tools to organise thought processes and how to deepen thinking through exploratory dialogue.
Effective teaching methods
“Teachers take the pupils’ thinking to places they never knew existed, which breeds a culture of creativity, innovation and limitless possibilities,” says Dale.
Frank Scarcelli, Principal at Dubai Scholars, concurs. He insists that a fundamental change in education has been that the delivery of content is no longer the primary aim of teaching. “Instead, the most important role of the teacher is to teach our students how to shift through multiple sources of information, analyse it and present it in a manner that defends a position.”
This, in turn, has led schools to introduce flexible, anytime/everywhere learning that is more project-based.
“Blended learning, which combines regular face-to-face instruction with an online learning system, is an economical way of achieving an intentional differentiation,” Scarcelli says. “Also, a variety of software programmes have become available to schools to assist in all areas of teaching and learning.”
Blended learning, which combines regular face-to-face instruction with an online learning system, is an economical way of achieving an intentional differentiation.
He reveals that his school will soon utilise AI to help teachers compile student data in real time, giving them a “window into each student’s metacognition process”. AI will also eliminate repetitive tasks in teaching, and help create “smart content” for personalised learning.
One of the biggest breakthroughs of modern education has been the attention now given to building students’ emotional intelligence, character and mental toughness.
“KHDA’s drive to become a regional hub for science-backed positive education is unprecedented,” says Katrina Mankani, Director of Positive Education at Fortes Education. “Based on positive psychology, or the emerging science of well-being and happiness, positive education is a whole-school approach to cultivating character strengths, growth mindset, resilience and relationship skills,” adds.
Meanwhile, Özhan Toktas, Managing Director at Pearson Middle East, claims that technology is redefining the educational landscape and transforming the way educators teach as well as the actual curriculum of what should be learned.
Tech in teaching
Technology has enabled the concept of virtual schooling wherein students around the world study with certified teachers in virtual classrooms from their homes. Students can work at their own pace and are supported with personalised learning plans as well as given ongoing support from an education advisor. The proliferation of high-speed internet has meant that learning is no longer confined to the physical classroom or the library.
“This flexibility and greater reach give the added benefit of economies of scale,” says Toktas. “As a student, that means budget or physical location is no longer an impediment in accessing professional expertise.”
Future of schools
Gazing into the near future, Dale predicts classrooms will exist without walls and teachers will become mentors. Technology will allow multi-collaboration and flipped learning, ensuring that the time spent in school is utilised to solve problems, create and innovate.
And yes, schools might start looking like fancy headquarters of large companies — with flexible seating, multifunctional meeting spaces and the aesthetic characteristics of the most modern five-star hotel.
Dale says, “These offices and workspaces are the future for our pupils and I see that schools will begin to create learning spaces that support and prepare pupils for environments of this kind.”
Özhan Toktas, Managing Director, Pearson Middle East, points out that student boredom is one of biggest problems that educators have to deal with. He refers to a University of Central Lancashire study that suggested almost 60 per cent of students find at least half their lectures boring. The study further found that students adopt a variety of strategies to cope with boring lectures. The most popular are daydreaming (75 per cent), doodling (66 per cent), chatting to friends (50 per cent), sending texts (45 per cent) and passing notes to friends (38 per cent). Moreover, over a quarter of students leave the lecture at the mid-session break.
All educators today agree that if we want our students to stay motivated and engaged, then it is essential to make learning fun and curriculum interesting.
To avoid this, it is critical to use appropriate curriculum materials. “Materials to drive learning must be engaging, easy for the educators to use and must spark the child’s imagination. And yet at the same time, sound pedagogy and unwavering curriculum compliance are necessary,” he says, adding, “All educators today agree that if we want our students to stay motivated and engaged, then it is essential to make learning fun and curriculum interesting.”
Enhancing student engagement
“At Umm Ammar International School we offer a broad and balanced curriculum that we feel is essential for keeping students challenged and engaged in a changing world,” says Nicki Williams, Principal of the school, which opens doors in Abu Dhabi in September.
We have STEM as part of our curriculum from Grade one onwards to encourage project-based learning with a cross-curricular approach.
“We go beyond the standard core subjects offered in most schools to incorporate lessons that support teaching our students how to think out of the box. We use design and technology, which covers robotic skills, coding, programming and even participation in regional competitions,” says Williams.
“We have STEM as part of our curriculum from Grade one onwards to encourage project-based learning with a cross-curricular approach. We also believe that food technology is an important subject for students to develop understanding of food preparation and healthy eating. Our extensive range of extracurricular activities not only offers students the opportunity for sports and creative outlets but also provides academic support through subject specific clubs or even homework clubs. From an academic perspective, our rigorous assessment systems help us to identify students’ strengths and areas for development in their core subjects and provide the needed support to get them to the next level in their learning.”
— GN Focus report