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126 English Language Teachers Participate in Economic Experiments at the Al Qasimi Foundation

Al Qasimi Foundation
September 21, 2013

Al Qasimi Foundation Quarterly Newsletter - September 2013 Research Feature:

In the United Arab Emirates experimental economics research has largely been nonexistent. However, that is starting to change.

In June, members of New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and the Al Qasimi Foundation dedicated a week to exploring the intersection of experimental economics and education.

As part of an on-going study on the effectiveness of English language teachers, 126 English language instructors participated in economic experiments conducted by Dr. Chetan Dave, professor of economics at NYUAD, in partnership with the Al Qasimi Foundation.

“The need for behavioral research in the field of education is evident,” says Ms. Soha Shami, Research Associate at the Foundation. “Previous research on teacher quality focuses on observable socio-demographic factors like age, educational qualifications, and years of experience. Yet these factors have proven to be, at best, only minimally correlated with students’ academic outcomes.”

The incongruity between findings on teacher quality and student achievement is motivating researchers at the Al Qasimi Foundation and NYUAD to find a new way to measure teacher effectiveness.

“What we’re trying to do in this research project is to combine some experimental and behavioral techniques to measure things like risk aversion, patience, altruism, and a few other factors,” says Dr. Dave, who facilitated the study’s experiment sessions. “Then we’ll look at whether there is a correlation between those experimental measures and student achievement scores.”

During the experiments, the Al Qasimi Foundation’s multi-media learning space was divided into cubicles in which participants responded to computer-based activities. Some of the tasks were focused on the individual, while others such, as the teaching activities, were pair-based.

The study attempted to detect links between teachers’ behavioral characteristics in the context of economics and their styles in the classroom. Ideally, the study’s data on teachers’ economic preferences will be used to build behavioral models that could measure their success as instructors.

“Through the experiments, I learned about ways to think creatively, and I was happy to be part of the first and only such experiments to be conducted in the academic community of Ras Al Khaimah,” says Amna Al Shehhi, an English language teacher at Al Sabahia School.

The research hopes to help identify potential policies for improving the effectiveness of English language teachers in the classroom. These policies, in turn, could support student achievement in Ras Al Khaimah public schools and in the broader country and Gulf region. Early results already show some interesting trends.

For example, female teachers, who are almost all Emirati, generally have lower English language proficiencies as measured by the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) compared to their male counterparts, who are largely Arab expatriates. However, the female teachers’ students scored higher on their English exams, on average, than did the students taught by male teachers.

Combined with other early findings, Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation, has already begun to identify key policy issues worth exploring further.

“This study has significant ramifications for policy makers in the United Arab Emirates as it demonstrates potential negative impacts that existing labor regulations have in male teachers’ behavior in the classroom and thus on Emirati boys,” she says.