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United Arab Emirates - Summary

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceUnited Arab Emirates - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


The government is responding to the dynamics of the small national population in relation to a very large nonnational population, which could form the basis for future political instability or conflict, by treating expatriates as temporary residents who will be replaced in the future by qualified Emiratis. There is pressure on the educational system to produce graduates who are ready, willing and well qualified to join the work force, and on the Ministry of Education and Youth to get more UAE nationals into teaching positions.

The typical contract for an expatriate teacher is three to five years, though some expatriate teachers have been allowed to stay in the UAE longer. The turnover among expatriate teachers is about 15 to 18 percent per year, requiring the ministry to hire up to 2,300 new teachers a year from among the approximately 25,000 who apply.

Nationals in the system include university and teaching training institute graduates, but others with minimal qualifications are often hired as teachers and thousands have been hired without any formal education in the profession. No specific training levels are required for a national to qualify for a job and nothing like a teaching certificate exists in the UAE. The pay scales for national teachers are about sixty percent higher than for expatriates in the federal schools and national males are given further inducements to become a teacher. Nationals also have great advancement opportunities. About seventy percent of all principals are Emiratis. In spite of such measures, the goal of having a teaching force that is 90 percent Emirati by 2020 appears to have little chance of coming to pass.

Teachers, administrators, academics, and other observers of the UAE educational system have noted with concern poor quality instruction and learning exist in some outlets. Research has shown that teaching methods on the whole are traditional and based on rote memorization. Textbooks are seen as being at the center of learning through memorization. Teacher absenteeism is also a problem. Innovation on the part of teachers is often viewed as very difficult because of the demands of complying with a centralized curriculum and evaluation system enforced by administrators and school inspectors. Explanation and discussion are the most common methods reported with little use of small group, individualized, lecturing, experimental, laboratory, or role-playing methods.

Observers also argue that curricula are outmoded and that innovations, when instituted, are often practices that are going out of fashion elsewhere. Concerns have also been expressed about a culturally based emphasis on group relationships, which impedes individual effort. Performance in many areas is often years behind that of students in other national systems. Dropout rates are high. Expatriate teachers, as temporary guest workers, are contract workers whose views are often not considered by UAE administrators and who are not perceived as stakeholders in the system. Some expatriate teachers are trained for systems in which large class sizes are the rule and there is an intentional "weeding out" of marginal students, blocking their prospects for postsecondary education. The UAE can afford small class size and individualized instruction in environments in which most students can progress. The high turnover in expatriate staff prevents UAE schools from developing a cadre of experienced teachers upon which quality programs depend. Because expatriate teachers are trained in their home countries, the UAE cannot exert control over their training or qualifications or provide for some common basis of experience. Some question the advisability of having foreign teachers as role models for Emirati youth.

The UAE educational system faces considerable challenges but the UAE is one of the few nations on earth in which ample financial resources are available to help resolve them. The vision of the leadership and administrative skill of those guiding such programs within a diverse and complex cultural environment will determine the outcome.


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—Paul D. Starr

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