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English Teachers Development Project Draws to a Close

Al Qasimi Foundation
June 25, 2013

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Higher Education statistics show that across the country more than 80% of Emirati students are unable to enter university without first completing a foundation year, often due to insufficient English language skills. This is especially troubling since students’ level of English proficiency is often a key predictor for their overall success (Kherfi and Naufal, 2012). To help address this critical issue, the Foundation launched a project in 2012 to raise the quality of English language instruction within Ras Al Khaimah government schools under a directive from His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi.

“The English teachers development project was a wonderful opportunity for the Al Qasimi Foundation to contribute to the development of English teachers working in the emirate and to assist them in becoming better practitioners,” said Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Foundation. “While the program’s aim was to assist individual teachers, the real beneficiaries are the students in their classrooms.”

In her 2008 study which included classroom observations over a six month period, Dr. Ridge found that many secondary level English language teachers conducted significant portions of their lessons in Arabic and that instruction techniques tended to be teacher-centered, failing to engage students in active language acquisition. These findings, combined with her other experiences working with local teachers, convinced Dr. Ridge that more work was needed to support English language teachers in the emirate.

Working in collaboration with the Ras Al Khaimah Education Zone, the Al Qasimi Foundation administered a paper-based Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam to all English language teachers working in Ras Al Khaimah government schools. The goal was to establish a baseline assessment of their English proficiency in order to implement focused professional development that would raise the overall quality of English language instruction. A total of 416 teachers were tested, with average scores of 503 for men and 470 for women. 

Based on the TOEFL results and student examination scores, two distinct groups of teachers were recommended for professional development and support. The first consisted of 100 teachers who were offered 60 hours of English language training and TOEFL exam preparation, which was delivered through the Ras Al Khaimah Higher Colleges of Technology over a 20-week period. Those who attended the language training worked hard, and 19 of the participants were able to increase their TOEFL score by 30 points or more when a retest was conducted in April 2013.

The second group, comprised of 95 male teachers, was identified to participate in pedagogy training developed and delivered by Dr. Cambria Dodd Russell, Assistant Professor of Education at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah. The training included 15 hours of workshops covering a range of topics, such as reflective teaching, specific strategies for language learning, classroom management, and student assessment and evaluation. Once the workshops concluded, Dr. Russell and her team then undertook a program of in-class observations, visiting virtually every participating teacher in their schools to support them in implementing what they had learned. 

“The work the English teachers have done to improve their practice is exciting. After attending the pedagogy course, many have been implementing the ideas we learned and discussed,” said Dr. Dodd Russell. “What is most exciting is their continued enthusiasm for professional development and for collaboration with their peers.”

To acknowledge participants’ dedication and commitment to improvement, an awards ceremony was held at the end of May. Ms. Sumaya Hareb Al Suwaidi, Director of Ras Al Khaimah Educational Zone, presented certificates to those teachers who actively engaged in the various training opportunities offered as part of the English teachers’ development project. In addition, 10 teachers were honored with a special prize that included an invitation to afternoon tea at the Palace as guests of His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi. These teachers were selected based on their exceptional hard work and enthusiasm for improving their teaching practices:

  • Maryam Ahmad Rashed Al Ebel
  • Rawda Khalaf Saeed Al Zaabi
  • Maysoon Saeed Ghubash
  • Tahani Rashed Mohammad Aabed
  • Hajar Abdullah Ahamad  Al Dhuhoori
  • Lassad Bin Salem Bouaziz
  • Anas  Abdulsalam Mohamed Siala
  • Maisara Saad Saber Amin
  • Abdulmunim Mohammad Hasan Melhem
  • Mahmood Saeed Mahmood Abdulatiff

Although the official program has drawn to a close, the Foundation hopes to continue offering specialized continuing professional development opportunities for English language teachers given their vital role in preparing students to access higher education.

“We look forward to holding more workshops on areas that the teachers have identified in order to meet their needs in the classroom,” said Dr. Ridge. “We know that the secret to a successful education system lies in successful teachers, and it is our desire to continue to work alongside teachers to help them become just that.”

Kherfi, S. & Nafual, G. (2012). Does the choice of high school matter? Evidence from the UAE on the effects of schooling on students’ university performance (Working Paper). Sharjah, UAE: American University of Sharjah.