Significantly, schools are set-up as either Arabic or English-medium, with the minority local population and other Arabic speakers attending the Arabic, and children of all other nationalities attending the English schools. This fact alone tends to establish two unique and separate communities within the country. Furthermore, government schools are entirely Arabic, whereas private institutions serve both the English-speaking and expatriate Arabic-speaking communities.
This arrangement changes at the higher levels of education. Local colleges and universities are English-medium based. In practice, however, as long as Arabic-speaking instructors are present in the classroom, the use of Arabic continues.
Most post-secondary institutes, in fact, cater towards the local and expatriate Arabic-speaking communities, as oppossed to the expatriate English-speaking communities. This has been based upon the assumption that most expatriates send their college-aged youths home or out-of-country for higher studies.
Only now is this pattern beginning to change, with Dubai's efforts to set up higher-education zones aimed at attracting international institutions which cater to students both locally and abroad. Knowledge Village and Academic City are two such zones, the former established a few years ago and the latter presently under construction.
The idea is that Dubai will flourish as an international destination for learning, of course, matching international standards where Eglish-medium predominates.
That is, more or less, how the educational system within the UAE is structured. It might be more informative to look at the atmosphere within the various institutes of learning and attitudes among learners.
Here the picture is one of greater variety, among the various communities. Generally, Indians attend Indian schools, Westerners attend British, American, Canadian schools and the like, and so on.
Whatever attitudes toward education exist within the native countries, these are transplanted in the respective community's schools within the UAE. Moreover, morale within some of these communities is particularly high as many international students are attuned to the importance of excelling in a foreign language (English) and within the foreign setting (the UAE) in which they live and hope to succeed.
Local students, on the other hand, are notorious for having a lackadaisical attitude, not perceiving the need to establish themselves in a society where much is simply provided to them. This creates a significant challenge to both educators and the school systems.
It is expected and required that local Emiratis will attain positions of leadership within their communities and the society-at-large, and therefore essential that education play a more effective role in their formation. This, however, is an objective which until now is being pursued with much difficulty.
Of Personal Note
This is the situation that I face constantly in teaching English to local learners, where it has been my role to support the development of future leaders in this country, whether they serve in government, military or industry. Yet, there is not sufficient motivation among these learners to avail of the numerous educational opportunities afforded them.
A not uncommon experience for me as an educator is to enter into a class of 15-20. Within the instructional period I might engage two or three among this number while the rest sleep, chatter or otherwise remain out of the picture. The lack of interest and motivation among many local, young adult learners feature in a range of disciplinary problems including poor attendance, tardiness and disruptive behavior within the classroom.
These anecdotal observations, however, are based upon my perhaps limited experience. Others may be able to support or refute this with their own experiences in the classroom and while serving in a variety of institutions. The overall picture, however, is one of segmentation within society where education is generally split along Arabic and English-speaking lines, and between the local and expat communities.
Education in the UAE (news articles offering differing views):
- Education standards deplored
- A cautiously optimistic view of UAE's education system
- Education cost in the UAE
- Links Wanted: Essays, articles, reports, etc. on the topic of education in the UAE.
- Students struggle in English, report says UAE students score worst in English, in the world!
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