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With 1 year to go to the golden jubilee of the Union, the ambitious goals outlined in the UAE National Vision 2021 continue to guide the strategic reforms and policy agendas for government sectors and entities in the UAE. Amongst the 6 national priorities identified by His Highness is a focus on investment in the nation’s youth and the creation of a first-rate education system.  With an eye set on a leading spot amongst global education rankings, the National Vision pillar aptly titled First-Rate Education System relies on a series of indicators including student performance in core subjects, teaching quality, enrolment rates and uptake in early childhood education, amongst others.

Recent TIIMS and PISA scores for UAE students reveal that much work remains to be done and certainly an overhaul is needed in fundamental areas, particularly if the goal is to move up into a top 20 rank on the PISA index. What will it take to see the UAE move up in the ranking? What lessons can they learn from countries like Canada and others in the top 20?

1.     High-quality teaching through investment in teacher training

Not only is teaching a highly-respected profession in Canada, but the extensive education and training required to enter the profession mean that the women and men leading Canadian classrooms are selectively recruited. Only half of Canada’s universities offer teacher education programs, and acceptance into the 2-year education program requires at minimum 3 preceding years of undergraduate study in a related field. Along with pedagogy, curriculum design, and psychology of learning, candidates in teachers education programs must complete an 80-day in-class practicum. Following successful graduation, an extensive induction program is a requirement, extending up to a full year. The hands-on teaching experience with direct mentorship from those already licensed and practising means that teachers are given ample opportunity to apply theory and hone their craft prior to being entrusted with leading a room full of young minds.

Canadian teachers are also perpetual learners.  Professional development course is routine and mandated by each provincial teaching board. Sharing of best practices is inherent to the professional development process, and regularly solicited input from teachers, school leaders, parents, and teachers in training allows for training program design to be informed and responsive to the emerging needs of the classroom locally and competitiveness globally. 

Attractive compensation packages affirm the merits of high professionalization. Canadian teachers are amongst the highest paid in OECD countries, and the stability and growth trajectory of fair pay packages naturally facilitates lower attrition from the career path and promotes lifetime job commitment and specialization at an individual level. 

2.     Small classroom sizes mean equal access to quality education

Classroom sizes are small and kept small. When a school is found to be struggling in performance, the system focuses on providing additional resources, allowing for lower teacher to student ratios to be maintained and for a range of disciplines to be offered. This, in turn, improves every student’s chance to access individualised, quality instruction.

In Canada, education is seen as a right. Education is provincially mandated and further delegated to regional boards, provided to all citizens free of cost from pre-primary through to high school. This means all Canadians have equal access to equal and quality education. A commitment to tolerance, equality, and non-discrimination as national culture further creates school environments in which students of all learning abilities and levels are accommodated proactively. Inclusion is not an exception but a rule.

3.     Integration of 21st-century skills into all learning areas from the earliest years

If there is one word to describe a classroom in Canada, it’s holistic. The interactive nature of instruction and the highly non-deferential culture (anchored tightly to the democratic culture of the country) creates environments that are non-competitive and encourage students to explore, investigate, attempt, fail, challenge, and ultimately, succeed. Core subjects such as math, language arts, and science are complemented from the primary years with technical and creative subjects such as graphic design, woodworking, music and art. 21st-century skills have been and continue to be a mainstay of the Canadian classroom. Collaboration, problem-solving and creative thinking accompanies the mastery of content in all subjects, making the classroom a place to challenge concepts and generate solutions. Learning thus happens intuitively.

By: Nida Hussain

Nida is Head of Communications for Maple Bear Gulf Schools, a Canadian international education company with over 350 schools across 17 countries. Nida’s work focuses on promoting Canadian education approaches in the GCC region. Her career experience includes roles in public policy and regulation with the Canadian public service as well as non-formal education program design with several international non-profits.