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Community | Whole School Renewal | Ras Al Khaimah | United Arab Emirates

Community Advisory Council Lends Insight to Education Initiatives in Ras Al Khaimah

Al Qasimi Foundation
December 31, 2015

After specializing in professional development courses for Ras Al Khaimah’s educators over the last five years, the Al Qasimi Foundation is shifting its focus to pilot a more integrated approach to supporting local schools.

“We realized as we did these teacher professional development programs that we weren’t seeing changes at the school level that we really wanted to see,” explains Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation.

“We saw individual teachers becoming much stronger, more confident, and more innovative through our program, but the schools as a whole didn’t seem to be improving in the same ways. Based on this, we decided to conduct a year-long review,” says Dr. Ridge.

As part of the review, the Foundation wanted to approach education reform more holistically and include an active community engagement component. This desire, supported with additional background research, led to the establishment of a community advisory council to help provide feedback throughout the initiative.

“The type of reform we’re looking at is whole school renewal, which is basically an inclusive journey that invites all education stakeholders into the process of strengthening the impacts of the local school,” says Mr. Brian Jaewon Chung, who is part of the Foundation’s research team.

“The advisory council represents a significant step in the whole school renewal process, because it listens to and leverages community voices from the onset. Too often, researchers make decisions on behalf of the community and then try to convince stakeholders to buy into those ideas at a later date.”

Forming advisory councils remains a fairly uncommon feature among research initiatives, particularly because they require a high degree of commitment and cooperation between researchers and community members.

For Ras Al Khaimah schools, though, this kind of collaboration might be a key to strengthening an educational system that is eager to improve student outcomes and teacher satisfaction. Recent events have highlighted the strain felt by many teachers and students in the United Arab Emirates, including the loss of trained educators and decline of student engagement.

“Stakeholder participation is key to designing, implementing, and evaluating any whole school renewal project,” explains Dr. Sooyun Jeon, Research Director at the Foundation. “Before the Foundation could begin tailoring this approach for a specific Ras Al Khaimah school, it needed to hear from the community and individuals at the epicenter of school culture.”

The new advisory council includes 12 teachers, students, administrators, parents, and community members involved in local schools, in addition to Foundation staff. The council met for the first time in October under approval of the Ras Al Khaimah Education Zone.

During the meeting, Foundation researchers presented an overview of whole school renewal and the responsibilities of advisory council members. Participants responded with questions, ideas, and marked enthusiasm for the project.

Aamna Al Zaabi, a local grade 12 student who is part of the advisory council, was optimistic about the initiative. “I hope that we can solve school problems and share what students think. I hear complaints from my friends, their friends, and the teachers, and I hope we can all come together . . . to make [Ras Al Khaimah] a better place for our generation and our future.”

Advisory councils like this one are significant because they bring community insight and context to the project that researchers cannot necessarily access through traditional research avenues. Participating members agreed to actively engage in council activities, offer individual consultation to researchers, and give honest and constructive feedback as the whole school renewal process unfolds.

Dr. Faisal Obaid Ahmad Al Tunaiji is Head of Educational Affairs at the Ras Al Khaimah Education Zone and a member of the advisory board. He believes that collaborations between schools and the Al Qasimi Foundation, such as the whole school renewal initiative, benefit the community.

“The Sheikh Saud [bin Saqr Al Qasimi] Foundation for Policy Research is one of the leading institutions in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, which provides great support to Ras Al Khaimah schools. We have participated in many of their programs,” comments Dr. Al Tunaiji.

Dr. Ridge believes the community advisory council will play an important role in the whole school renewal initiative and looks forward to piloting this new approach to the Foundation’s research.

“When we think about education reform, we want to walk through every step of a project with the people who are most affected by and dedicated to education in their emirate. Ultimately, we believe that whole school renewal can only be effective if it engages the whole community, and this advisory council is part of our commitment to fostering meaningful engagement.”