Plans to phase out foun­da­tion year for uni­ver­sity by end of 2018 post­poned

▶ Plan to phase out ex­tra year for those that fail pub­lic high school exit test is dropped for new tar­get as too few pupils ready to go straight to uni­ver­sity

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERTA PEN­NING­TON

Plans to phase out the foun­da­tion year of re­me­dial English for pupils about to em­bark on ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion have been de­layed.

Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials have ad­mit­ted that abol­ish­ing the foun­da­tion year by the end of next year was too am­bi­tious, and the time­frame has been ex­tended un­til 2021.

Dr Ab­dul­latif Al Shamsi, vice chan­cel­lor of the fed­eral Higher Col­leges of Tech­nol­ogy, said the per­cent­age of pub­lic school pupils with enough pro­fi­ciency in English to al­low them to pro­ceed straight to uni­ver­sity was on the rise.

Dr Al Shamsi said that last year, 23 per cent were pre­pared for uni­ver­sity with­out a foun­da­tion year.

“That per­cent­age has been ris­ing every year,” he said. “And that is sim­ply be­cause of the im­prove­ments that are hap­pen­ing now at the gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion level.

“They are do­ing a lot, they have put in a lot of ef­fort. But the ef­forts take time.”

To avoid the need for foun­da­tion year, pupils leav­ing high school must reach a min­i­mum of five points in the In­ter­na­tional English Lan­guage Test­ing Sys­tem, a global bench­mark, or at least 1,100 on the Emi­rates Stan­dard­ised Test.

The em­pha­sis on English as the lan­guage of in­struc­tion in pub­lic schools for sub­jects other than those such as Ara­bic, Is­lamic stud­ies and so­cial stud­ies is part of a con­tin­u­ing, in­ten­sive over­haul of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“This im­prove­ment is meant to tackle sev­eral is­sues in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” Dr Ha­mad Al Yahyaei, di­rec­tor of Grades 9 to 12 cur­ricu­lums for the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, said when the orig­i­nal goals were set 12 months ago.

“One of them is to make sure that we keep en­hanc­ing the stu­dents’ readi­ness for higher ed­u­ca­tion and com­pet­i­tive­ness in the job mar­ket.”

Dr Al Shamsi said that the new tar­get was achiev­able.

“But you can­not phase it out 100 per cent be­cause you will al­ways have some stu­dents who are strug­gling with the English lan­guage.”

Plans to phase out the year of re­me­dial English that many pub­lic school grad­u­ates must take be­fore uni­ver­sity have been put on hold.

Emi­ratis who fail a high school exit test that mea­sures their level of English readi­ness in Grade 12 must com­plete the “foun­da­tion year” be­fore go­ing to uni­ver­sity.

Plans were afoot to raise the stan­dard of English taught in high schools so the year would no longer be needed, with a dead­line for the end of next year. But of­fi­cials ad­mit that was too am­bi­tious.

“They were not able to achieve the re­sult of hav­ing stu­dent English scores high enough to avoid foun­da­tion, so there is still foun­da­tion need­ing to be done,” said Dr War­ren Fox, chief of higher ed­u­ca­tion for the Knowl­edge and Hu­man De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity.

To be con­sid­ered for di­rect ad­mis­sion into a de­gree pro­gramme at one of the UAE’s pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, Emi­rati pupils need to earn a min­i­mum score of 5 on the In­ter­na­tional English Lan­guage Test­ing Sys­tem, or at least 1,100 on the Emi­rates Stan­dard­ised Test.

Those who fail to achieve this grade can opt to en­rol for the foun­da­tion, or aca­demic bridge pro­gramme, of­fered by lo­cal col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to raise English pro­fi­ciency.

The 2018 tar­get for end­ing the foun­da­tion pro­gramme was set dur­ing a Cab­i­net re­treat in 2013 as part of an ed­u­ca­tion over­haul, and con­firmed at the Fed­eral Na­tional Coun­cil by Sheikh Ham­dan bin Mubarak, the then Min­is­ter of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

Of­fi­cials said the high costs associated with the foun­da­tion scheme, which was re­ported to use about one third of the post-sec­ondary school bud­get – cut into higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing for re­search, in­no­va­tion and new pro­grammes.

It also places stu­dents in a state of aca­demic limbo, as they do not earn col­lege credit for the work they do in foun­da­tion years.

But since then, much has changed in the ed­u­ca­tion land­scape, in­clud­ing the ap­point­ment of a new min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion and a merger of the min­istries of ed­u­ca­tion and higher ed­u­ca­tion, sup­ported by two new min­is­ters of state.

The pub­lic school cur­ricu­lum has also un­der­gone re­forms de­signed by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to raise stan­dards, in­clud­ing in­tro­duc­ing sub­jects, text­books and phas­ing in bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion.

In Au­gust last year when the cur­ricu­lum re­vi­sions were an­nounced, Dr Ha­mad Al Yahyaei, the min­istry’s di­rec­tor of Grade 9 to 12 cur­ricu­lum, said: “This im­prove­ment is meant to tackle sev­eral is­sues in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in the UAE.

“One of them is to make sure that we keep en­hanc­ing the stu­dents’ readi­ness for higher ed­u­ca­tion and com­pet­i­tive­ness in the job mar­ket.”

A sec­ond goal iden­ti­fied by Dr Al Yahyaei was “to make sure that 100 per cent of the stu­dents, by 2018-2019, can get into col­lege with­out a foun­da­tion year”.

The new tar­get for phas­ing out the foun­da­tion pro­gramme will be guided by the UAE Na­tional Agenda, which aims to en­sure that “no stu­dents need to join the uni­ver­sity foun­da­tion pro­gramme” by 2021.

“The new goal, which is still a bit am­bi­tious, calls for re­duc­ing and try­ing to elim­i­nate the en­rol­ment of stu­dents in the foun­da­tion year,” said Dr Fox. “That is what it is now. It is in UAE Vi­sion 2021.”

Dr Ab­dul­latif Al Shamsi, vice chan­cel­lor of the Higher Col­leges of Tech­nol­ogy, said the pos­i­tive ef­fects of the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion re­forms were al­ready ev­i­dent.

Dr Al Shamsi said that last year, 23 per cent of new stu­dents en­tered the HCT’s aca­demic pro­grammes with­out hav­ing to en­rol for the foun­da­tion year. In 2014, only 20 per cent of stu­dents were ready for di­rect en­try to uni­ver­sity.

“That per­cent­age has been ris­ing every year,” said Dr Al Shamsi. “And that is sim­ply be­cause of the im­prove­ments that is hap­pen­ing now at the gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion level.

“They are do­ing a lot, they have put in a lot of ef­fort. But the ef­forts takes time.”

Set­ting 2021 as a tar­get for en­sur­ing Emi­ratis achieve a score that will al­low them to en­ter uni­ver­sity de­gree pro­grammes is re­al­is­tic, said Dr Al Shamsi.

“It is achiev­able,” he said. “But you can­not phase it out 100 per cent be­cause you will al­ways have some stu­dents who are strug­gling with the English lan­guage.”

Dead­line for the end of next year was too am­bi­tious, of­fi­cials ad­mit

Jeff Top­ping / The Na­tional

The new tar­get for phas­ing out the foun­da­tion pro­gramme will be guided by the UAE Na­tional Agenda

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