Many countries continue to recognise the significant role of education as a driver of change. However, despite enormous investment, both financial and human, the UAE’s education system continues to exhibit more challenges than solutions as it attempts to increase its return on investment,The National reports.
My 2012 doctoral research identified social factors at home, in the community and at school that prevented young Emirati school leavers from achieving their potential in further education. In general, the research finds very few examples that support learning as a process of a teacher leading forth, drawing out knowledge and strengthening learners. Much of this is due to poor learning experiences described as teacher-centric and intimidatory that produce disengaged learners.
Today only 20 per cent of Emirati higher education applicants are eligible to directly commence their studies without an academic bridge programme to raise their competence in English and mathematics, readiness for university-level work. Some Emirati students find the experience to be linguistically, cognitively, emotionally and psychologically overwhelming. As working adults, they continue to view lifelong learning and applied skills training through the negative emotional lens of their high school and early university experiences.
At the heart of transformative learning is perspective transformation, sometimes the result of a disorientating life crisis or dilemma. Transformation may also occur less dramatically by a teacher over a longer period of time.
There is also a space here for dialectical thinking and its focus on process and change brought about by the clash of opposing ideas. Changing one’s perspective does not necessarily lead to the current perspective or belief being replaced.
The entwined nature of the Arabic language, Arab ethnic identity and the religion of Islam was revealed in a recent study of the impact upon female Emirati university students and their learning experiences of using English as the main language of instruction. A quarter of the students said they believed that the current status of English presents a potential threat to both the culture and traditions of the UAE, as well as the Islamic principles of the country, while 30 per cent felt that learning at university through English makes them more westernised.
Largely based upon western practices and values, modern education in these cases appears like a Trojan Horse, devaluing local knowledge in favour of acceptable and standardised international knowledge based upon TIMSS and Pisa global assessments.
Not surprisingly, this gap explains many of the problems facing Emirati youth today – non-participation, weak learning, skills mismatch, youth unemployment and a sense of disenfranchisement.
Transformative education links education (content) more closely with societal knowledge and wisdom (context) embedded with strong themes of sustainable development.