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Passion for education

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Mohammad Fadhel Al Obaidly

Advisor, Public Opinion Research Center

Tag: United Arab Emirates
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The maths equations that my generation learnt in the 1960s and 1970s are the same that the young generation is learning in schools today. Rules of Arabic and English languages have not changed either. So what is the call for developing education supposed to mean?

Each of us has one or more answers to this and with the growing demands for smart schools or smart education, we are under unbearable pressure to move forward. But where and how?

I joined school in the early 1960s and my school was just a big house belonging to one of the wealthy families, which had donated it to the Ministry of Education. Nothing new in this. It was the same story in all GCC countries. Now, no longer are students enrolled in such schools all schools are model ones in the region. However, for me, the change was not in the buildings, but in the school environment.

Our teachers were not university graduates, though some had graduated from teachers institutes. Yet, when I compare the amount and quality of information and knowledge I received in my primary school with what the new generation learns now, I can see a difference.
For us, learning was not only in the classrooms. When we used to line up in the mornings for the assembly, we learned a lot more in those minutes than what we would from books later. Furthermore, we were able to learn more from outside the classroom. When the science teacher explained about birds or fish in class, we were able to understand the information better visually and practically through science group activities. We had activity groups for almost all subjects; we also had theatre, arts and sport. Most of the activities took place in the afternoon. This strengthened the ties among pupils and their families and the school. Families were happy to see their children spend most of their time in school. When the school had sports activities in the afternoon, many parents would come to watch their children and to be part of those activities. Furthermore, all schools were engaged in competitions in all fields not only in subjects they taught. This would verify what the children learned, but also what they could do and achieve, lsuch as in sports, theatre, arts and invention. Im saying that the school was not separate from its local community. It was an active part of it and all schools were always competing in order to improve. And this always led to better results.

This happened because of our teachers were dedicated and did their jobs with a lot of passion. They conducted the extra-curricular activities for the students without being paid for it. It was not for overtime; it was not to please the principal or the Ministry of Education.

With professionalization of staff, all those activities and competitions later vanished from schools or were reduced to the bare minimum or left to principals to decide whether they were useful. However, what happened is clear when we note that a decade later, all education officials and experts started to talk about increasing activities outside classrooms.

Since the 1980s, much has been said about developing education. GCC countries, such as the UAE and Bahrain, took major steps in this regard. However, the number of complaints increased as well and today we are still complaining that the capabilities and skills of students graduating from public schools do not meet the requirements of the labour market! This has been a persistent problem in GCC countries and it always leads to the main question: What do we want from our education system?

Im not an education expert, but I can see the difference. In our time, schools were poorly equipped but teaching and learning was done with passion. Today, schools have all the facilities, but there is little fervour. There is no competition among schools. They are just places where lessons are imparted; they are not part of their communities.

Passion is not a magic wand although it does have a magical influence. If this debate about developing education suggests that we have to improve methods of learning and update curriculums, even with experimental sciences, it will not solve the problem as long as those in education lack passion.

Originally published in Gulf News on February 13 2013

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