The National Identity Mark is the first ratings system designed to give parents full visibility on the quality of national identity programmes and activities in private schools across Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi: The recently-introduced National Identity Mark system for private schools in Abu Dhabi is designed to help families select the right school environment for their children.

But the system serves a greater purpose, a top official at the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK), told Gulf News.

National pride

“The National Identity Mark is the [first] ratings system designed to give parents full visibility on the quality of national identity programmes and activities in private schools across Abu Dhabi. [Apart from] boosting school transparency and empowering parents to select the ideal school environment, the rating system serves a greater purpose.

“It seeks to encourage private schools to embed national identity in their curriculums [in order] to foster Emirati students’ understanding of the UAE’s traditions, customs, and values, thus aligning with the UAE leadership’s priorities to foster national identity in future generations,” said Dr Sara Al Suwaidi, director of education quality assurance and monitoring at the ADEK.

“By implementing the ratings system, we aim to create an educational landscape that not only provides academic excellence but also nurtures a profound sense of national pride and cultural appreciation among students,” she added.

School inspections

Abu Dhabi has about 200 private schools in operation in 2022-2023.

Inspections for the new rating kicked off in the second week of May, with the results to be released by the end of the academic year. Dr Al Suwaidi said about 29 per cent of the 264,000 students enrolled in Abu Dhabi’s private schools are Emirati.

“Our inspection teams have started their visits, prioritising private schools with the highest number of Emirati students in the first phase. [This phase] of inspections will [therefore] cover approximately 89 private schools, As for schools without national enrollment, they are welcome to request an evaluation if they have relevant programmes and activities that immerse expatriate students in the rich heritage of the country,” the official said.

Expat students

She added that expat students will also benefit from the values espoused in the national identity programmes.

“Expat students [in schools with highly-rated National Identity Mark ratings] will learn about the local culture in which they live and learn. It will also provide them with a culturally-grounded experience, and develop their appreciation and respect for the country’s unique attributes and customs,” Dr Al Suwaidi said.

School rankings

Abu Dhabi’s private and charter schools are separately ranked for their quality and teaching standards each year. These are however different from the National Identity Mark, which focusses on promoting national identity.

Dr Al Suwaidi said schools must play a role in students’ understanding of their identity.

“Developing well-rounded citizens proud of their national identity is a joint mission between families, schools, and the wider community. For many parents, reinforcing national identity via education is of critical importance as it helps instill in their children a sense of belonging and pride, and we believe that schools can play an integral role in this regard. Schools’ national identity programmes complement and reinforce the messages and values taught at home. Collaboration and alignment between parents and schools will ensure students receive a consistent message and learn about the UAE and its values,” she explained.

National Identity Mark: How schools are rated

The evaluation framework covers three main domains, with special focus on the values, vision, and legacy of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Domain 1: Culture

-Arabic language: How the Arabic language is taught and promoted

-History: How the UAE’s history is taught, and how this allows students to appreciate the foundations upon which the nation has been built, and the values that continue to drive its growth and development

-Heritage: Connecting the nation’s past to its present and future to ensure that national identity remains a living and dynamic reflection of people and their shared experiences.

Domain 2: Values

-Respect: Maintaining an atmosphere of mutual understanding and harmony in the school community and beyond

-Compassion: Emphasising the wellbeing of society members, and reinforcing core values that promote unity within the wider community

-Global Understanding: Helping students understand the impact of the UAE on international relations, and how the country interacts with the world

Domain 3: Citizenship

-Belonging: Promoting a sense of belonging as part of a thriving society that is proud of its identity

“Inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s unifying spirit, cultivating a strong sense of belonging among citizens nurtures pride in students’ national identity and promotes active participation in civic life. By evaluating belonging as part of the National Identity Mark, we ensure that our nation continues cultivating an environment where citizens feel valued, connected, and committed to the betterment of our country,” Dr Al Suwaidi said.

-Volunteering: Encouraging active civic participation

“The late Sheikh Zayed believed volunteering to be a powerful tool for building a socially responsible and cohesive society. By assessing volunteering as part of the Citizenship pilar inspection, we ensure that our nation continues to promote a culture of altruism and active citizenship in the UAE, ultimately strengthening the core values that bind us as a family, community, and nation,” Dr Al Suwaidi explained.

-Conservation: How students can develop a more sustainable future for the country, and support Abu Dhabi’s vision of a sustainable knowledge-based economy

“Sustainability has always been an inherent part of our culture, in line with Sheikh Zayed’s legacy of preserving nature. He recognised the environment’s critical role in sustaining the nation’s prosperity, wellbeing, and future. This enduring legacy lives on today, as many schools already adopt sustainable practices and run activities that encourage students to adopt sustainable practices in their everyday life. Hence, the Conservation element is organically connected to the National Identity Mark, and we hope to see more schools and students uphold this element and innovate more and better sustainable education practices,” Dr Al Suwaidi said.

What schools say

More than 80 per cent of students at Aldar Education schools in Abu Dhabi are Emirati, numbering 26,671 students out of a total of 32,829 students, said Hanadi Yaser Mustafa, group head of Arabic language development at Aldar Education.

Hanadi Yaser Mustafa-1685337625567
Hanadi Yaser Mustafa, group head of Arabic language development at Aldar Education.

“A seamless integration of Emirati values, heritage, and traditions across various subjects in our curriculum is a top priority at Aldar schools.

By incorporating local history, cultural studies, and the Arabic language, we aim to cultivate a profound sense of pride and understanding of Emirati identity among students. Moreover, cultural events that showcase and honour Emirati traditions and customs are celebrated with enthusiasm and acknowledged through student-led activities and initiatives that resonate with the entire school community, fostering a sense of unity and connection. These events include National Day festivities, UAE Flag Day ceremonies, captivating performances of traditional music and dance, as well as exhibitions displaying local crafts and arts,” Mustafa said.

“In addition, Aldar schools actively engage with the local Emirati community, fostering cultural understanding and collaboration. Schools arrange visits to significant heritage sites, invite guest speakers to share their knowledge, and encourage students to actively engage in volunteering and community service activities that strengthen their connection with the teachings of Sheikh Zayed and Emirati values,” he added.

GEMS Education, the UAE’s largest education provider, also boasts a sizable Emirati student population at its schools.

“We have the privilege of teaching close to 2,000 Emirati students in our Abu Dhabi GEMS schools…Across all Abu Dhabi-based GEMS Education schools, teaching standards for Arabic, Islamic and UAE Social Studies are rated at least ‘Good’, while in most of our schools in the emirate, the standard of teaching is at least ‘Very Good’,” said Kelvin Hornsby, senior vice president for education at GEMS Education, and principal and chief executive officer at GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi.

Hornsby said GEMS Education schools teach Emirati values, heritage and traditions in their curriculums at all levels.

“This involves educating students about the country’s history, culture and traditions, and instilling in them a sense of pride and appreciation for their Emirati identity. Throughout the year, our schools organise various events and activities to celebrate Emirati culture and heritage, including festivals and celebrations like UAE National Day, Eid Al Fitr, Eid Al Adha, and UAE Flag Day. Students can participate in cultural activities, dress in traditional Emirati attire, and sample traditional Emirati food,” he said.

The schools also invite guest speakers and experts to give talks and presentations on Emirati culture, heritage and traditions, and organise field trips and visits to historical and cultural sites.

What’s next

“With the launch of the ADEK National Identity Mark, we will align our internal school review process at Aldar Education with these standards moving forward. Our next steps to further strengthen our national identity program are to continue developing our integrated curriculum provision through ongoing co-operative planning between teachers from both Arabic and English medium subjects.

“This will support our students in making meaningful connections to conservation and sustainability principles, cultural traditions, heritage, and Emirati values through seamless integration across all curriculum subjects. We will also continue to provide professional learning opportunities to support teachers’ understanding and appreciation of the UAE culture and to develop all aspects of provision in the 3 National identity mark domains,” said Stephen Sharples, executive director of education for Aldar Education.

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Stephen Sharples, executive director of education for Aldar Education.

“National Identity is a complex and multifaceted concept that encompasses various aspects of a country’s culture, history, traditions, values and beliefs. Therefore, strengthening these standards requires a comprehensive and integrated approach.

"One way to strengthen it is by celebrating the country’s cultural diversity and heritage. Incorporating the teaching of national history, values and traditions in the education curriculum at all levels is equally important to help students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of their country’s identity, and to instill a sense of responsibility towards it,” Hornsby said.