More attention on improving reading skills, mother tongue

[Dubai schools are planning to include more subjects in the new academic year which will help pupils develop their skills for the future job market.]

At the GEMS World Academy in Dubai, there are 11 different languages available to learn for students.

Robotics, artificial intelligence, computer coding and virtual reality were some of the subjects and trends that had become an integral part of learning in classrooms in the past few years.

However, this academic year schools plan to focus on more subjects that have become increasingly relevant in the professional fields and will further help pupils develop necessary skills for the future job market.

Some of the areas schools aim to focus on in the 2018-2019 academic year is teaching multilingualism, space studies, digital citizenship and concentrate more on reading skills.

At the GEMS World Academy in Dubai, there are 11 different languages available to learn for students. “This year the school has launched a major initiative, GEMS World Academy Language Institute, to introduce 11 mother tongues (9 in curriculum time) into the Elementary School.

“These classes, which are included in the fees, allow students to study their mother tongue within the school day allowing them to pursue other sporting or extra-curricular activities when they would have been doing language learning previously,” said Micheline Chaia, director of Language Institute at the GEMS World Academy, Dubai.

“Students will be able to study French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Urdu, Mandarin, German, Swedish, Hindi, and Turkish. Additionally, students in Pre K, KG1 and KG2 have the opportunity to study French, Arabic or Mandarin (or more than one) as language acquisition. All of this complements the breadth of language study already on offer at the EMS World Academy.”

Chaia said that it is important that youngsters continue to develop their mother tongue both as a way of retaining their culture and to allow them to integrate back into their home country if they do return. “Additionally, the learning of languages has been proven to improve their overall studies,” she said.

At the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD), educators are also focusing on helping students with bilingualism.

“Many families have chosen our school so that children can retain or build true bilingualism. Our community has made it clear that there is further demand for this so in addition to our existing French and German bilingual programmes, we are now offering Italian and Spanish for native speakers within the school day in our secondary section. As we grow, we will continue to diversify in this regard,” said Luke Osborne, head of Secondary at SISD.

Space studies are also taking over schools this year. There has been a lot of activity in the global space industry.

The US space agency Nasa has sent the Parker Solar spacecraft to probe the outer corona of the sun as part of a historic mission. The first ever commercial space crew by Nasa were also announced. In the UAE, the first two astronauts were announced this month and the first fully Emirati-built satellite will soon be launched.

Students at the GEMS FirstPoint School will be developing their skills when it comes to space studies.

“The children in our Foundation Stage (ages 3-5) are very excited to discover what awaits them in our ‘Mars Exploration Station’.  The children are able to develop is their research skills in a Mars landscape with contoured flooring, space rocks and their very own Mars Mission Lander and rocket.

“They even get to wear space suits to give them the experience of being real astronauts and inspiring their learning through play and exploration,” said Sandra Mason, head of Foundation and Early Years at GEMS FirstPoint School.

Teachers adopt new ways to redefine classrooms

Educators are focusing on making reading an important part of students’ lives this academic year. At the Green Community School (GCS), teachers are implementing new ways to make reading ‘fun’.

“Reading is a fundamental skill which has the ability to change people’s lives for the better. Being able to read with understanding empowers students, creates confidence and develops independence.

“The 2016 UAE Reading Law, with its aim of consolidating reading in society, and the National Agenda Action Plan’s literacy focus on the explicit teaching of reading comprehension strategies has highlighted the importance of reading in today’s world,” said Fiona Redding, PYP Librarian at GCS.

“Being able to make sense of what they read allows a child to engage meaningfully with every part of the curriculum.  With young children reading is taught through engaging stories. Focusing on the story characters and what might happen in the story also leads to rich listening and speaking engagements where children can express their thoughts and ideas in a supportive environment.

“Older students also engage in problem solving, conflict resolution and gain empathy for others through the exploration of age appropriate fiction and information texts. Research skills will also be a key part of our learning journey this year, teaching students where to find information, how to decide what is relevant to their needs, how to record it accurately and use it appropriately.” The school started the term with treasure hunts around the library to their KG and grade 5 students and help them understand how a library works, so that they can become independent learners.

“The challenges ranged from navigating the Dewey Decimal system to finding the book the Very Hungry Caterpillar was trying to eat,” Redding said.

The school is also focusing on helping students develop their digital literacy.

“At GCS, we understand that our students are learning in an Information Age where children need 21st century skills so that they are in sync with the world around them. Teachers at GCS look for opportunities to redefine our classroom practices and pedagogies while carefully weaving technological integration throughout our Programme of Inquiry,” Jane Gaughan, the Grade 3 Coordinator and Class Teacher at GCS, said.

“We understand that we are preparing students for the real world where devices are key to many professions, and developing Digital Literacy encourages proficiency in skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. When using devices, it is imperative that children understand and practise appropriate and responsible digital etiquette in and outside the classroom therefore Digital Citizenship is at the forefront of technological integration. Students are taught that devices are tools to support our learning and used only when appropriate.

Obsession with assessment detriment to student wellbeing

(Brendan Law-vice-president, British Cluster Lead at GEMS Education)

As it is the Year of Zayed, it is entirely appropriate to take stock of our visionary leader as we consider the future of education in the United Arab Emirates and the global skills we need to be developing in the next generation. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of UAE, was a leader well ahead of his time, not least because he understood the value of tolerance, endeavour and human capacity.

On the wealth of the nation he stated: “Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies, the power we value.” He understood the real spirit behind progress: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities.”

It is in this spirit that visionary education leaders need to shape the future for our schools. The focus in recent times internationally has been an obsession with assessment, which has led to narrow national curriculums and inspection frameworks that give little credence to the values which Sheikh Zayed held so dear.

Don’t get me wrong: academic assessment remains a key measure, as does progress and the use of data in all its forms to inform learning and teaching. However, this must be balanced with equal weighting being given to the ‘soft’ skills, which in themselves are often difficult to measure and yet intrinsic to our personal development.

It concerns me that subjects like humanities and modern foreign languages, which build global citizenship skills; fine and performing arts for creative and collaborative skills; and sports, which build teamwork and tolerance, are barely considered in the current assessment standards.  The pressure on attainment in core subjects often leads to a dilution of the breadth of curriculum: schools are faced with tough choices and too often activities which build teamwork, collaboration, interpersonal and other global skills are reduced, to the detriment of holistic education and increasingly, to the detriment of student wellbeing.

In a world of artificial intelligence, it has never been more important to ensure that we re-establish the value of subjects and activities which develop the ‘human spirit’, the ‘real spirit’ as defined by Sheikh Zayed. It is vital that the balance of our overall school curricula provide our youngsters with a breadth of development well beyond the cognitive and problem-solving skills needed to cope in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

At GEMS Education we are doing just that: for example, we are breaking new ground in the use of technology while simultaneously enhancing interpersonal development, global skills and co-curricular programmes.

Digital, linguistic subjects in focus as new year begins

One exciting digital initiative happening this year at Greenfield Community School (GCS) is the use of the ‘Seesaw Learning Journal’ app from KG to Grade 5. This is a digital portfolio designed for all ages, and it allows each student to collect digital and physical work in one place.

Seesaw is an additional tool for parent communication which shares exactly what is happening inside the classroom, and encourages dialogue through feedback from teachers, parents and even other students. It helps students take on the responsibility of their own learning process, a journey which is guided by the teacher.

(Digital portfolio for students of all ages, Jane Gaughan, Seesaw ambassador, GCS)

I think in today’s world, our children must know several different languages. The world has become so diverse and multilingual, that knowing just your mother tongue and English is not enough. Nowadays, so many people are learning French, Mandarin, Spanish, Russian. I want my kids to be learning to speak a third or fourth language as well. This way, I know that in the future, they will be safe when applying to jobs, when they travel, when they meet new people.

(Learning new languages need of the hour, Prachi Sinha, parent)

I want my son’s vocabulary in English to be very high, this is why I encourage reading at our home and schools should be keeping a focus on that too. Robotics and coding are also important, especially since most of us parents aren’t very educated on those topics, schools should really teach that to students. Reading, however, will always be important. It helps with writing, communication and will definitely help my son when he is ready for the work life.

(Robotics and coding are also important, Sanya Pervez, parent)

Source: Khaleej Times