The delegates attend on the 2nd day of Qudwa-Global Teachers Forum 2017 at Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The lack of autonomy, professional development opportunities a and career pathways for teachers are still preventing many countries from realising large-scale improvements in the field of education, delegates heard on the second day of the Qudwa Forum in the capital on October 8.

Even within the UAE, teachers complain of the same concerns, said Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at inter-governmental entity, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“The Teacher and Learning International Survey 2013 found that teachers valued these factors as being more important than their salaries. Five years on, these concerns are unlikely to have changed much, and policymakers therefore need to address them in order to motivate teachers and make teaching more powerful,” Schleicher told Gulf News.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the third annual Qudwa Forum in the capital, which aimed to develop education by empowering teachers. A total of 900 educators and officials, including 700 educators from the UAE-based public and private schools, attended the two-day forum, which was held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The forum itself was organised by the education affairs division of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, and saw a total of 90 sessions that fostered engagement with government officials, experts and educators.

According to Schleicher, primary school students constitute just four per cent of the UAE population at present, but represent 100 per cent of the UAE’s future. To that end, he called upon teachers to transform their understanding of their roles, and cater to the evolving needs of students.

“This means that teachers should be involved in curriculum redesign. They should be able to spend less time providing instruction, and more time in one-on-one sessions with individual students. They should collaborate with people from other industries to make classroom learning for students, for instance,” Schleicher advised.

In today’s education ecosystem, teachers must also work to reduce the prevalence of rote learning — through memorisation, routine exercises and repetition — which is still very common in the UAE

“Such learning becomes less useful as problems become complex. [It is a positive sign, therefore, that] in Abu Dhabi, virtually all teachers say that they see their roles as facilitators of students. Nine out of 10 teachers say that students learn best by finding solutions on their own, and that thinking and reasoning are more important than curriculum,” Schleicher said.

Jameela Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Public Education, said education authorities plan on giving teachers more autonomy soon.

“Our goal is to allow for more teacher autonomy within the education system. But at this time, we need to [refine] the system itself by embedding the curriculum, assessments and professional development within it. Once these are in place and quality education is ensured, the first step we will take is to provide more autonomy for teachers,” she said.

Julia Gillard, chair for the Global Partnership for Education that aims to ensure universal education, also stressed on the need to establish career pathways for teachers.

“[Like in other professions], teachers must be able to progress through various stages so that we there is more respect for their [achievements],” she said.

Making the teaching profession more intellectually attractive in this manner would be a key step towards recruiting the 69 million new teachers needed globally to ensure that United Nation’s goal of educating every child by 2030, Gillard added.

But it is not just policymakers who must work to raise the status and motivation level of teachers, said Dr Ali Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Department of Education and Knowledge.

“I was once a teacher myself, and I firmly believe that you must earn your respect. You must impose the importance of your own role on the community, and there is no easier way to do this than by appealing to the hearts of children and fostering a close bond with their parents,” he said.