historical and contexual changes in development of education policy in the UAE

Historical and Contextual Changes in the Development of Education Policy in the UAE



Historical and Contextual Changes in the Development of Education Policy in the UAE


From the early 1950s, the role and extent of learning in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has undergone considerable changes. Al Ateeqi (2009) states, the progression of globalization contributed largely in the development and growth of education landscape within the country. Starting from simple Qur’aníc programs practiced in the past to a globally competitive university platform, education in the UAE a shows significant change and reforms. The country main focus is to remain steady even with the global challenges within the education sector. The UAE works closely with the global community because they believe that developing countries need to equip the human resource with highly skilled and flexible resources to compete efficiently within current vibrant and changing global markets. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the evolution of the education sector in the UAE, starting with a historical summary, an investigation into the current realities in the system, the challenges it faces and the success it brings to the country (Farah & Ridge, 2009).

Historical Background of the UAE Education Policy

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) comprises and makes up seven emirates that include Abu Dhabi, Ajrnan, Dubai, Al Fujairah, Sharjah, Ras El Kheima and also Um Elquin. Farah & Ridge (2009) confirms that the confederacy came into effect in 1971 and before then, the emirates had independent rulers. In reviewing the historical background of education policy in the UAE, it becomes evident that the system remains moderately new. From the year 1952, there existed only a few formal schools within the country. In 1953, the British started the initial schools providing a comprehensive curriculum in the region of Sharjah. The staff and teachers came from other Arab countries as the school saw an enrolment of 450 boys aged between six and seventeen years. In a short while, a modern girl’s school also developed in Sharjah to cater the needs of the women in society. The British administration also created several other schools in various regions including Abu Dhabi, Khawr Fakkan as well as Ras al Khaymah. An agricultural school also developed in 1955 under British rule, and also a technical school in Sharjah was built in 1958 (Talhami, 2013, p. 96).

In 1950s, the country relied on outside sources and supplies for its education system. In 1958, Kuwait became a major contributor by providing support in terms of educational salaries for the teachers and school supplies that played a huge part in 1950s to 1960s. Talhami (2013, p. 96) argues that Kuwait accomplished this by starting schools in the emirates such as the Ajman and Umm al Qaywayn education facilities it built in 1958. Kuwait also contributed by proving funding for teachers to travel abroad to receive training. Until the country could manage to pay its own teachers, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the Egyptian region provided the funds and the curricula that became widely used during this period. Tatnall & Jones (2009, p. 230) declares that a radical change occurred when Abu Dhabi started producing and earning from oil in the begging of the 1960s. Abu Dhabi began its own education system that it funded while the other emirates relied on outside countries for support. By 1964 to 1965 academic years, Abu Dhabi had managed to open six schools that had registered about 390 boys and approximately 138 girls who were taught by thirty-three teachers. In the same years, the country had thirty-one schools outside Abu Dhabi and twelve of these were meant for girls. In essence, Dubayy controlled 3, 572 students spanning ten schools and about 137 teachers where most of them were recruited from Kuwait and the United Arab Republic (UAR) (Peck, 2010, p. 85).

Immediately after the UAE was founded in 1971, the country experienced a wide range of expansion in the education sector. Education, even after the formation of UAE remained confined only in urban settlements, and less than 28,000 students were enrolled (Oxford Business Group, 2013, p. 16). Students who aspired to further beyond secondary education could achieve this through government financing to study abroad in other Arabic nations and often in England, as well as the United States. The country section 17 of the constitution declared that education is central for the growth and development of the society and, therefore, it is compulsory at the primary stage and free in all other stages (Talhami, 2013, p. 96). During the first seven year of the coalition, education became second in government funding next to defense. For example, the 1988 budget allotted Dh 2.0 million (UAE dirham) for the education sector. The primary transformer of the education system includes His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who remained in power in Dubai from 1958-1990. He dedicated his efforts in the education policy within Dubai and the UAE since he knew it is valuable from having studied in good schools from a young age. The Al Ahmadiyyah School played a key role in his life and his belief stated that education remains vital for any society that wished to develop and create a foundation for success (Brooks Fuller & Waters, 2012, p. 40).

The UAE education system established in 1970s comprised of four stages that covered fourteen years of learning. The 4-5 year old children attended kindergarten, 6-11 years enrolled for primary school, 12-14 years represented the preparatory stage and the 15-17 years olds entered the secondary education system. In 1972 to 1973, it marked the initial full academic year since the creation of the UAE during which the state controlled approximately 140 schools. Out of these 140 schools, 12 provided boarding accommodation. Additionally, many schools remained separated according to gender, but some especially at primary level remained coeducational. Progress in the education sector grew such that by 1990 to 1991, the country had 760 schools that managed 49,904 pupils residing in preschool, 227,083 students were in primary school, and also 111, 611 had entered the secondary system. There were about one-third of students who enrolled in private or religious education centers. Towards the start of the 1991to 1992 academic year, the education policy had introduced military courses that became compulsory in federal secondary systems (Talhami, 2013, p. 97).

The university system opened in 1977 that enrolled students that completed the secondary education. The United Arab Emirates University opened its doors in 1977 at Al Ayn encompassing of four faculties. These faculties included the arts, business administration, education, political science and science departments. The first year of operations saw 400 students registered, and a sharia (Islamic law) faculty began in 1978. In 1982, the university added the faculties of agriculture as well as engineering while in 1988, four higher colleges in the technology sector (two for men and two to enroll women) opened their doors. In this way, the enrolment of students in the academic year of 1990 to 1991 stood at 8,941. The percentage of women in the university system in 1990 approximated at 60% showing a huge improvement over the years (Brooks Fuller & Waters, 2012, p. 41).

Additionally, by beginning of 1990s, the United Arab Emirates University saw a large funding of about Dh3 to Dh5 billion poured to expand its capacity to about 16,000 students by the year 2000. When the expansion completed, the existing campus became a technical college to deal with students that required practical skills in blue collar department. The adult literacy classes were also constructed especially through the Women’s Federation of the UAE. In essence, by 1992, the country had around twenty-six adult education programs. In a study conducted by the United Nations (UN), the UAE’s literacy rate from 1988 to 1989 stood at 53.5% inclusively, 58.4% among males and 38.1% among the female groups. The federal government opened numerous vocational centers that had managed to enroll about 2,614 students by the end of 1987 to 1988 academic year (Talhami, 2013, p. 97).

Women in the UAE Education Policy

Before 1960s, women participation in any other duties outside the home remained small. However, with the confederation of the UAE the validity of women participation in all sectors including education became recognized. Madsen & Cook (2010) argues that, the UAE values the role of women in education such that by 2007, a report by Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within the UAE states showed that the proportion of women in higher education increased greatly, at a rate that has not been accomplished by any other countries in the world. In fact, further research indicates that the number of female students in universities have outnumbered the males in the same institutions. The federal government and family social structures in UAE encourage education for women, which contributed to this growth. It becomes evident that women value in the education policy has been transformed to actors and participants in an effort to build the society (Mishra & Kereluik, 2011).

Additionally, the ratio of literate females from the ages of 15 to 24 shows an increase of 100.5% from the 1990s to 110% in the year 2004. Overall the female literacy for this group stood at 90% by 2007, with results showing that after secondary schools, 95% of Emirates women advance to higher education. For example, in Al Ain University, the female population stands at 75% compared to men in the institution. The women inclusion in education policy has advanced to an extent that over 70% of them are graduates progressing in many areas of employment. Women value in the education policy continues to growth since they understand the need to better their lives through education in a changing economy (Wilkins, Stephens Balakrishnan & Huisman, 2012).

UAE Education Policy in Information Technology

In the initial stages after the confederation of the UAE, Information Technology (IT) had not made a significant mark in the country. In 2000, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai managed to launch an initiative that included IT in education policy. The “Smart Learning Imitative” that started in all public schools (Gaad, Arif & Scott, 2006, p. 292) cost approximately 1 billion dirhams. The program works in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MOE) as well as Telecommunications Regulatory Authority through a close assessment of UAE Cabinet. The aim of the “smart” project includes creating an enhanced electronic infrastructure that features fourth generation, high-tech networks and upgrades the curricula to become competitive. The introduction of this into the curriculum of the UAE ensures that IT grows through various ways. For example, parents get the opportunity to access electronically and follow up on how the children education is fairing. They also get a chance to familiarize with school projects, put down comments and suggestions, and even get feedback from teachers on their children progress. The advantage that comes with such a system is the inclusiveness of numerous elements of the educational development that comprises the students, teachers, curriculum and also the school environment. The program makes use of the latest electronic systems accessible in UAE and the world in order to improve integrative method of learning. Through this process, the UAE education policy enhances globalization and benefits from sharing of information with the world (Oxford Business Group, 2013, p. 232).

According to Oxford Business Group (2013, p. 237), the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has been progressing towards the e-book technique of education. Additionally, the country has adopted the “iClass e-learning initiative” that was executed in six chosen schools in the year 2005. This plan came into being to prepare and assist students’ plan for the future by offering skills as well as expertise to contest globally. In essence, such a program allows the school system to abandon the traditional method of memorization and adopt e-learning that includes sharing and gaining new understanding across the globe. The adoption and use of IT in UAE within the education sector can be analyzed by accessing the amount of resources the government has facilitated. The total expenditure of information, as well as communication technology in UAE, stands at 33 billion dollars, which extends far from what is globally used by 50%. This realization indicates the federal government puts emphasize on the education policy through global access (Al-Awidi & Alghazo, 2012).

The program is further complemented by the UAE Advanced Network for Research and Education (Ankabut) to better technology (Oxford Business Group, 2013, p. 242). The set-up main goal is to back the programs designed for scientific research, as well as innovation in UAE. Today, there many public and even private establishments within the network including 20 universities that maintain 56 branches within the UAE stage. Ankabut network has links to more than 200 universities in the United States as of 2014 with additional affiliation extending to Europe and Asia. The whole idea brought out shows that education policy in UAE has gone global, and through its expansion it benefits the society. The quality of education at UAE today allows productivity, growth, knowledge and opening to the outside world (Al-Awidi & Alghazo, 2012).

Special Needs in the UAE Education Policy

Unlike in the past, currently the UAE government values and supports students that require special needs. Many of the special needs education programs had not been developed in the country by the 1990s. In this way, students with disabilities had to contend with the possibility of missing out on education. However, in 2000s the government developed programs and systems that incorporated the special needs of students to secure their future in education. In November of 2006, the UAE contended to the voluntary Protocol to the United Nations Convection on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The country took up the federal Law that assures the needs and rights of people with special needs. Additionally, wide range of occupational and rehabilitation centers for these persons have been built across the country. The government makes efforts to include students with special needs within the mainstream educational facilities to ensure that they grow and get an opportunity to learn. In fact, through these plans, the UAE education policy assures people of all backgrounds of their place in the curriculum (Alghazo & Naggar Gaad, 2004, p. 94).

The federal government additionally approved the UAE Disability Act that was created with the aim of protecting people suffering from disabilities, as well as special needs. This law assures all UAE citizens of their right to occupy public positions within the education sector. Inside this act, public and private school in UAE have the mandate to ensure equal access for all students. There is no school within the country has the authority to refuse a child with special needs admission. The teachers and therapists dealing with students with disabilities or special needs need to have a university degree that approved by the Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research (MOHESR), while they have to provide a teaching permit dispensed by the Ministry of Education. In addition, the schools in UAE have no authority to fail or hold back in classes students with special needs, and if the school has to charge extra fees to the parents or guardians, they need endorsement of MOE. The MOE in UAE plans to make sure that public schools open positions and facilitate the inclusion of students, with disabilities in mainstream schooling. Today, about 10 schools in the Emirates have been modernized and facilitated to cater for special needs students and plans are underway to add more into the list. MOHESR asserts that instruments, equipment and machines expenditures that the special students need are covered by the Ministry depending on a child’s health status (Alghazo & Naggar Gaad, 2004, p. 95).

The UAE education policy has developed greatly to accommodate needs of all citizens without fail. The system has encouraged many nongovernment institutions to open up and support the education of students with disabilities by enrolling them in their programs. The openness of the UAE education systems sets phase for all Arab nations to secure the education of their citizens (Levinson, Sutton & Winstead, 2009).

Current Curriculum Development Activities within the Ministry of Education (MOE)

Currently, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in UAE supports a Curriculum Department with three major roles. First, the Ministry has a duty to offer “modern curriculum” that is in line with the objectives of the MOE 2008-2010 Strategic Plan. The “modern curriculum” led to the launching of Madares Al Ghad, which means the Schools of Tomorrow to provide an opportunity for new features and elements in education. This includes quality teacher student relationship and abandonment of traditional methods in favor of more interactive learning lessons. The objectives of the MOE 2008 -2010 strategic plan require that the education system secure the needs of all students with quality education. Secondly, the MOE has the mandate to evaluate and agree to the textbook manuscripts after every five years. The review of these textbooks ensures that teachers get to access quality material and relay to the student body. For example, the English textbooks have undergone changes to embrace new communicative strategy through cassettes, teacher-student interaction, and role plays to enable them learn English faster. Thirdly, the ministry also has a mandate to prepare and oversee the assessment as well as the examinations. The UAE actually does not have an overriding curriculum document except the script that sketches the content and even the performance level expected for all students (Macpherson, Kachelhoffer & El Nemr, 2007).

The MOE works closely with Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR) to better the UAE education policy. In 2007, MOHESR came up with Common Proficiency Assessment (CEPA) that focuses on English language skills to all students before joining the universities. The same program CEPA was introduced in math in the same year and in Arabic in 2009. The program allows students to gain skills in various basic and key subjects before they join the higher education programs. In essence, the UAE education policy has been geared towards programs of critical thinking and problem-solving in various disciplines. The traditional curriculum pushed students to memorizing materials, and this deteriorated the level of education offered in the country. However, with the changes in various programs like CEPA, e-learning and information technology, the education sector grows each day enabling students to enter the society with open minds (Macpherson, Kachelhoffer & El Nemr, 2007).

Success and Globalization of UAE Education Policy

The introduction of subjects such as English enables the growth of the UAE curriculum in secondary and universities. Rugh (2002, p. 398) argues, the study of languages like English or French enable students to easily access latest materials, gather enough research in science, philosophy and medicine among others. The UAE curriculum incorporates both Arabic and foreign languages in studying various disciplines in the system. There are arguments that favor the use of Arabic as the only way of maintaining cultural value, while others support additional languages to expound on knowledge. However, with the modern society of globalization, the use of foreign language in the curriculum remains paramount. The development of most subjects in sciences, engineering and medicine begin with other languages such as English before being published in Arabic. In this way, it adds value to uphold the foreign languages in combination with the cultural language to make sure that students do not lag behind in any disciplines. The English language plays a huge role in globalization of education for any economy because it works for many countries. There are few countries that do not use the English language and, therefore, when conducting business this language plays a huge role in international economies. The UAE education policy understands this necessity of the English language and, therefore, it is taught in almost all of the schools in the country (Wilkins, Stephens Balakrishnan & Huisman, 2012).

Another success of the UAE education policy lies in the 2010 program by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) called New School Model that resembles that of New South Wales. The system recommends additional classes, computer laboratories, and also modern learning facilities. In 2008, the MOE created a mentoring program that allocates western chiefs 50 out of 735 public schools within the country. The step is geared towards westernization and modernizing teaching methods and apply Western styles. The idea approves of active student participation in the learning process instead of copying materials and then memorizing. The idea of Westernizing and accepting modern learning styles encourages sharing with the outside world. This creates a pool of new ideas for students to learn and transfer to others in a creative environment. The essence of opening doors for learning materials to the outside world enhances globalization through interaction and sharing ideas (Wilkins, Stephens Balakrishnan & Huisman, 2012).

The UAE curriculum also promotes youth programs for students to cater for developing skills and talents. The youth activities include social, scientific forums, cultural clubs, and arts all of which enables them to explore their abilities. The system has scouts and Guides societies throughout the country where they plan and organize religious, educational, cultural religious and even promotional learning systems. The youth programs offer an opportunity for the young people to socialize and share ideas. Learning is a developing process and through the sharing and gaining experience from peers enhances understanding the introduction of such flexible programs by the UAE curriculum has generated more exposure and critical thinking skills among the youth. The UAE education policy is both inclusive and extensive in ensuring that all disciplines are reviewed (Wilkins, Stephens Balakrishnan & Huisman, 2012).

The other successful endeavor for the UAE policy includes their efforts to furnish their schools, colleges and even universities with the latest technology. The technological developments enable the system to advance and get exposed to the world. In this way, they interact at international level and this makes the quality of education efficient. In essence, Hamo (1994) argues that today, many Arab countries are making use of social networks to expound. The element of social media in education builds diversity and exposure to advanced learning or access to material that foster new knowledge. In the same manner, e-learning is embraced by the government to allow students interact nationally and internationally. The idea of e-learning has developed widely in the UAE and it offers more opportunities to students who cannot attend physical classrooms. Generally, the UAE curriculum has been created in a way that is accessible to everyone. Today, the Higher Education programs are freely provided to all qualifying students through grants and scholarships to support them in completing their education. The system allows integration, access and value education to all UAE citizens without fear or favor (Wilkins, Stephens Balakrishnan & Huisman, 2012).

Challenges Facing the UAE Education Policy

With the new adoptions of curriculum by the UAE, there are various challenges that the system faces. These include difficulties in changing the attitudes and methods used by teachers, expanding the range of the curriculum content, undertaking appropriate strategies and also challenges in extending the local capacity and maintain sustainability. In essence, many teachers remain attached to the old curriculum and methods of teaching. In particular, moving away from a text-book driven system of teaching to a curriculum of planning becomes a challenge for many. This is because they had gained expertise and skills in the old method of learning and changing remains difficult. There many teachers who feel that the old system of teaching that focused on following the curriculum works better. These are teachers who have followed it for many years and believe in their methods of teaching (Muysken & Nour, 2006, p. 957).

There is a challenge in the level of expansion of the curriculum because UAE lacks the collaboration between various governmental institutions. In essence, as stated earlier, UAE does not follow a universal curriculum for the entire region that is adopted by all schools. There is lack of unity and uniformity in deciding the content that needs to be included in the curriculum. These challenges have to be addressed to allow the UAE education policy to grow and enhance in all areas. The quality of education lowers when a universal curriculum is not adopted by all pupils because it becomes difficult to measure the level of improvement for each school (Trujillo, 2014).

The challenges of undertaking the appropriate strategies within the curriculum occur because of the gap in teaching methods. The main problem lies in teacher training programs that do not encourage teachers to abandon the traditional styles. For instance, many veteran teachers fail to collaborate in changing the old styles of teaching and opt to remain in the past. It is paramount for reform to be undertaken in strategies of teaching especially in area of languages, math and scientific subjects because these are the basis of any curriculum. The idea is to encourage critical thinking and promote innovation, as well as creativity in teaching strategies. Dakkak (2011, p. 28) declares that extending the local capacity to accommodate all the UAE students and potential learners is challenging. The UAE is currently facing a rise in population and this calls for additional investment in education. The funds to enhance the educational environment and policies are not sufficient to better the conditions. In essence, the focus of the government should be encouragement of vocational and technical institutions to provide access to poor performing and dropout students (Brewer, Knoeppel & Lindle, 2014).


The UAE education policy has grown and changed greatly over the years to accommodate curriculum diversity. The historical development of the education policy began with small Qur’aníc programs, into the British school and then the UAE system after its confederacy in 1971. The system incorporated a program that had four stages from kindergarten, primary school, preparatory and secondary schools. In 1977, the UAE education policy initiated the first University, which became the United Arab Emirates University. Women and students with special needs became more active in the education sector as the government addressed their plight. The UAE curriculum also enhanced the Information Technology department that advanced learning nationally and internationally. The education policy strategies and processes paved way for globalization as many disciplines such as English became incorporated to ensure students could compete at a global level. The UAE education policy may be facing challenges of transformation to the new system, but has grown tremendously in enhancing learning, critical thinking, problem-solving and accessing global ideas.


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