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Teacher Exchange Program Brings International Perspective to Ras Al Khaimah

Al Qasimi Foundation
June 14, 2015

During the school holidays this April, 13 educators from Ras Al Khaimah government schools visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Ras Al Khaimah Teacher Exchange Program, organized and funded by the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, partnered with the Malaysian Ministry of Education for this educational research trip.

“We chose Malaysia for this trip because Malaysian schools have a solid reputation internationally and notable educational and vocational outcomes,” explained Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation. “In addition, there are important cultural similarities between the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia that make it more likely that educators would find the experience more relevant to their own situations.”

Before travelling to Southeast Asia, Al Qasimi Foundation staff equipped Ras Al Khaimah’s educators for their journey through a series of workshops, including research-planning meetings led by the American University of Ras Al Khaimah’s (AURAK’s) Dr. Cambria Russell.

Dr. Russell guided participants through the process of preparing to collect field data in Malaysia on educational topics such as teaching with technology, strategies for teaching English as a second language, and differentiation in the classroom.

They asked questions like, “What kinds of curriculum do technology teachers in Malaysia use, and how does that affect classroom experiences?” and “Do Malaysian schools separate low-achieving students from high-achievers, or do they integrate them into the same classrooms, and what are the affects of this approach?”

“We planned our research projects, created data collection instruments, and got to know one another before going to Malaysia, and I think this set our team up for success,” said AURAK master’s student and local English teacher, Noora Al Blooshi.

After months of anticipation, the group arrived in Kuala Lumpur and began visiting a variety of educational institutions at which participants would collect data related to their research topics. After returning to the emirates, participants would be able to analyze their data and present their findings to fellow educators in Ras Al Khaimah.

The group’s first destination was a primary school, Sekolah Kebangsaan Jalan 3.

In an introductory speech, the principal of this School of Excellence told the group that the school aims to produce students who have a “global outlook and Malaysian roots.” In this spirit, the school promotes academic subjects like English and information technology while honoring their heritage through traditional dance and art forms, which students performed for their guests from the UAE.

Participants noticed at the primary school and at the other institutions that the Malaysian education system highly values co-curricular activities, integrating sports, art, music, and oratory activities into their schools.

The delegation next spent two days at a teacher-training institute that instructs pre-service English teachers from around the country. The tertiary institute approaches teacher training holistically and designs its programs to develop teachers’ character and their pedagogical skills, which in turn will benefit their future students.

They call this approach “Bina Insan Guru,” meaning the “human development of teachers,” which made an impression on the UAE educators.

“The country’s commitment to the ethical development of its students from their primary through tertiary educations is impressive and something we should think about in Ras Al Khaimah,” said English teacher Ms. Asma Al Blooshi.

At the teacher-training college, exchange participants also took advantage of the opportunity to join in a variety of educational activities planned and executed by the institute’s student teachers. These included an English carnival—full of interactive language games—and dramatic stage performances starring the future educators.

At a secondary school, the group observed co-educational classes and interviewed teachers as part of their ongoing research projects.

“The boys and girls were studying together appropriately. I was surprised that the mixed-gender classes worked well,” noted Mr. Khaled Al Sabah, an English teacher at Al Munaei School for Boys and a master’s student.

The final stop on the group’s educational tour was a vocational institute, Setapak College Vocational.

“Whether our students are good with head skills or good with hand skills, they are building Malaysia’s future,” explained the school’s director, Mr. Ruslan bin Zainudin, as he highlighted the importance of vocational education.

At Setapak, Ras Al Khaimah educators were particularly excited to see students engaged in masonry, electrical, welding, and accounting projects based on their interests and skills.
“Even the school’s English language curriculum was tailored to the students’ vocational goals,” noted Ms. Asma Al Blooshi.

Ms. Aamna Al Shehhi, an information technology teacher at Al Hudaiba Secondary School and master’s student studying educational leadership, was equally impressed with the Malaysian classrooms.
“The trip was a great success. I enjoyed every single moment there,” she said. “I learned about education and also about navigating cultural differences. I will do my best to implement what I have observed and learned through the Teacher Exchange Program.”

Ms. Al Shehhi is not alone in her resolution. Already, two teachers at Al Dhait Secondary School for Girls have worked with year 12 students to host an English language carnival like the one held at the teachers college in Kuala Lumpur. These teachers combined this event with a presentation of their research on differentiation in Malaysian classrooms.
Other participants have also begun to share their research findings with their peers.

Mr. Ali Al Dahmani, Vice Principal of Wadi Isfini School for Boys, recently made a presentation about the key findings of his research, noting certain differences between education in the UAE and Malaysia regarding how to teach students with varying abilities.

“Since we have completed our time in Malaysia, we’ve been pleased to see to a variety of presentations, action research projects, and reports from our participants,” said Dr. Russell. “In the future, the exchange participants and the leadership team will continue to work to ensure that the education community in Ras Al Khaimah benefits from the research done in this unique endeavor.”