Evaluation of Teachers for the 21st Century Training Project
Elannani, Hassan, International Education Studies
The United Arab Emirates has witnessed exponential growth while its schools have been lagging behind other areas of national development. Research studies attributed that to classroom practices that overemphasized theory and rote memorization. Education officials addressed this issue by setting up training programs about effective teaching techniques and strategies. The author participated in the Teachers for the 21st Century project and provided workshops to hundreds of public schools' teachers. To evaluate this teacher training project, the author followed a qualitative methodology using participant observation and data from documents, newspaper accounts, observation notes, and transcriptions of tape-recordings during the project. After each training session, the author tape recorded observations and noted participants' views and impressions. After the tapes were transcribed there emerged salient findings related to training content, trainers and translators, participants, training environment, and project management. The author found that an amalgam of organizational, professional, and cultural deficiencies had caused the three years' project to be discontinued after less than one year of its inception. Despite these shortcomings, teachers and trainers had benefitted from the training. However, these pressing issues must be seriously addressed in order to conduct sustainable professional development programs in the United Arab Emirates and Gulf region.
Keywords: teacher training, professional development, United Arab Emirates, participant observation, culture
1. Educational Issues in the United Arab Emirates
Education has been at the center of social and economic debates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the country has witnessed exponential growth while schools have been lagging far behind other areas of national development. Reports of such delay were found in many studies done in UAE and abroad (Muyskin & Noor, 2006; Bahgat, 1999; Macpherson, Kachelhoffer, & El Nemr, 2007). Among the most salient features of the delay was "educational attrition" according to the results from a longitudinal study of 5814 Emirati students from their first grade in academic year 1982/1983 to their graduation from high school in academic year 1997/1998. The study found out that there were two indicators for educational attrition: failure and dropout (Al Khayyal, 2002). The study listed some causes of education attrition in UAE such as too much emphasis on theory and rote memorization that discouraged student learning and led to students' dropping out of school; and students' dependence on the teacher's knowledge, teaching style, and personal characteristics for their learning at school. The study put forward the following recommendations to improve teachers' performance: (1) modernizing teachers' training; (2) mentoring new teachers; (3) embracing professional values and ethics; and (4) changing negative views about students (Al Khayyal, 2002).
In another study by Al Banna (1994), in which the author interviewed eighty teachers and administrators from six schools about their work experience and about pre-service and in-service training on teaching techniques, the participants described their in-service training as shallow. Only thirty teachers joined the two to three days-long workshops organized by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and only fourteen teachers with UAE nationality attended. No one joined a planned year-long training program. In sum, the researcher concluded that teachers did not receive any training worth the attention.
1.1 MoE Professional Development Policy
Growing evidence demonstrated that-among all educational resources-teachers' abilities are especially crucial contributors to students' learning (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005, p. 2) and that professional development was central to the improvement of instructional practices (Crockett, 2007). Professional development was defined by Diaz-Maggioli (2004) as a "career-long process in which educators fine-tune their teaching to meet student needs" (p. …