Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teaching Science & Maths in English hurts Arabic schools warn

PPSMI is also a concern in the UAE as the pilot programme shows some deterioration amongst the local Arab students.

“Arabic language should be the priority; it is the mother tongue, the language of our culture, and the language of our religion.”

English hurts Arabic schools warn

Hala Khalaf

DUBAI // A state school programme that uses English to teach maths and science is threatening to undermine pupils’ Arabic skills, school principals have warned.

One said the Arabic vocabulary of younger children is so poor, some cannot name their body parts.

Principals from the Madares Al Ghad (Schools of Tomorrow) programme, commonly known as MAG, took their concerns to the Federal National Council (FNC) yesterday. They want the Ministry of Education to take action.

The MAG programme was introduced into 50 schools in the UAE in autumn 2007 by the ministries of Education and of Higher Education and Scientific Research as a pilot programme. One of the main goals is to create bilingual graduates by teaching maths and science in English, as well as the English language.

Though principals said there were benefits to the programme, such as an improvement in pupils’ English skills and a marked rise in the use of analytical skills, most principals admitted to being disappointed with what they described as an “unrealistic” curriculum.

“We have noticed that the younger children just don’t use their Arabic as much; their vocabulary is suffering,” said Toubi Ali, principal of Al Khulafa Al Rashideen Primary School in Dubai.

“They cannot even describe all their body parts in Arabic, because they are learning the English words for them instead in their science classes.”

One of the objectives of the MAG programme is to change from rote-based teaching to student-centred learning, and to produce graduates proficient in both Arabic and English.

Many students are spending five to six years at university, because they are forced to take remedial courses in English before they can enter federal universities where the primary language of instruction is English.

Creating a curriculum that is strong in both languages is meant to eliminate that problem.

But some principals feel that students’ Arabic language skills are suffering as a result.

“Our kids should be taught English as a language, not have it be used as the language of instruction for all students at the expense of Arabic,” said Hamda Yousef, principal at the Dubai Modern Education School.

“Arabic language should be the priority; it is the mother tongue, the language of our culture, and the language of our religion.”

Principals also worried that teachers not proficient in English are teaching mathematics and science in English.

“Our teachers are not strong in English — they are Emiratis who teach in Arabic,” said Mrs Ali, from Al Khulafa Al Rashideen Primary School.

“For us to come now and ask them to teach maths and science in English to our students, which is exactly what MAG is about, is not realistic.”

Maryam al Jassmi, principal of Hessa Bint Al-Mor Primary School in Dubai, said the instruction of mathematics and science in English was causing problems between students and their parents.

“The parents are not as good in English, so they can’t help their children with homework, or explain a concept to them, and in turn, the children don’t know their numbers in Arabic, or their science terms even. There has to be a solution for this if we want our kids to be truly bilingual.”

Some principals, however, said there were benefits to the MAG programme, which involves English-speaking mentors training usually Arabic speaking teachers.

“The kids are better conversationalists,” said Khawla al Mulla, principal at Alnoof High School in Sharjah.

“The change in teaching methods has lead to better English grades and better teachers.”

Intissar Issa, principal at the Maria Coptic for Secondary Education school said: “At first we were worried that the MAG teams sent to each school will have a negative impact on our kids, due to the cultural difference.”

“Instead, our students benefited from this cultural exchange, and had a reference to go to that is better than the internet or a dictionary. We noticed an improvement in their accents, as well as the accents of our teachers, and a big improvement in the English language skills of everyone.”

Both the principals and the members of the FNC agreed that to get students interested in Arabic, they need a dual curriculum that is as attractive as the English texts.

“The tools used to teach Arabic are not modern; they are not being developed,” said Hana Kanan, project manager of the MAG School programme.

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