Hard subject
Research carried out by Zayed University found that private schools fell short in its curricula when teaching Arabic programs. Image Credit: Agencies

Dubai: Teaching the Arabic language is still a challenge for some private institutions in Dubai, according to a recent study carried out for the academic year 2018-2019.

The preservation of the Arabic language has constantly been a priority for the UAE, with a number of government initiatives launched over the last few years with the aim to restore its status as the official language.

The Bel Arabi hashtag, one of the biggest initiatives launched by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation in the field of social media, strives to motivate the youth to use Arabic language and to show loyalty to it.

The Arab Reading Challenge proved that the Arab youth need constructive initiatives to show superiority. Under this programme, school students in the Arab world read millions of books during one academic year.

The UAE has also taken many steps to preserve the Arabic language, such as “Lughati” — an initiative launched by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, which aims to distribute tablets with specially designed Arabic language educational programmes and applications to students and teachers of government schools.

According to research published by Zayed University, it found that private schools fell short in its curricula when teaching Arabic programs.

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“Private schools in Dubai are inspected by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) on an annual basis [and] all inspection reports are posted transparently on the KHDA website,” read the report.

Schools were ranked into six categories: outstanding, very good, acceptable, weak or very weak.

“Searching KHDA’s website for schools with outstanding rating, I found out that 17 schools out of 176 schools inspected in 2018-2019 were rated 'outstanding'. Of the 17 outstanding schools, three schools were rated 'good' in Arabic for native learners, one school was rated 'weak', and all the other schools received an 'acceptable' rating. Acceptable seems to be what most schools receive on their Arabic programs,” said Dr Hanada Taha Thomure, Professor for Arabic Language at Zayed University, who was responsible in carrying out the study.

“These results are in line with many parents’ perceptions of Arabic language education in private schools, who think that Arabic teaching in private schools is not up to the level they expect and want,” she said.

Dr Thomure’s findings also suggested that private schools could be improved in seven areas when teaching and learning the Arabic language:

1. Time Allocated to Arabic Language

Most private schools treat Arabic as a special subject, which means it is not the language of instruction and the time allocated to it usually does not exceed 45 minutes. No one is going to acquire the needed proficiency in Arabic language when they receive 45 minutes a day of instruction half of which is lost on classroom management.

2. Rigour

“The second challenge to Arabic language in private schools is that not enough rigour is given to teaching Arabic due to the lack of teacher expertise and suitable curricula,” according to the report.

Teachers need in-depth preparation and training on what, and how to teach native and non-native learners and how to carefully design learning and linguistic experiences that build on students’ learning year after year.

3. Uninformed Leadership

Private schools are mostly led by expert western leadership who do not speak Arabic and who do not have sufficient background knowledge about Arabic, and how best to approach teaching it.

4. Arabic across the school

Very few private schools encourage and integrate learning Arabic music, or the use of Arabic in newsletters, talent shows or displayed artwork. This limits the presence of Arabic language to the classroom only and often times sends the message to teachers, parents, and students that Arabic is not an important language.

5. Teacher Quality

Outstanding private schools in the UAE, and across the Arab world strive to hire the best calibre of teachers from around the world. They have an annually scheduled ‘hiring season’, where they scout great teachers in job fairs that are dedicated to matching the best candidates to schools. T

here are no job fairs available to Arabic language teachers, and so private schools find themselves limited to a smaller pool of candidates who happen to reside in the UAE, and who do not necessarily possess the quality of preparation and training needed to teach well.

6. Curriculum Quality

Most curricula available in schools are textbook-based, grammar-based, and not well aligned with the 21st century skills nor with the other subjects in school. Arabic children’s literature and immersing children in Modern Standard Arabic are not usually utilised as effective and essential tools in the classroom.

7. Professional Development

Arabic language teachers share with many other teachers in the Arab world the same plight of being ill-trained. This is an alarming issue that can have intellectual and linguistic security repercussions.

The study pointed out that although KHDA is not a training body, it has offered support to schools in the Arabic language domain. In 2015, KHDA launched the Living Arabic initiative, which brought in a collaboration of resources among interested schools.

“However, such an initiative needs to be coupled with quality and quick fixes to all seven impediments to quality Arabic education listed above,” said Dr Thomure.

“Schools need to have strategic plans for Arabic language education that are weaved into the whole school community and not just treated as a special 45 minute subject. Being proficient in Arabic language should be seen as a golden skill that can open up doors to employment, creativity and business. That’s why the 'acceptable' rating in Arabic is not acceptable anymore.”