Private firms take on state high schools

Kathryn Lewis

Last Updated: September 14. 2009 2:22PM UAE / September 14. 2009 10:22AM GMT

ABU DHABI // Private companies will have a hand in the management of every state high school in the emirate when the new term starts next week, as part of the Abu Dhabi Education Council’s effort to turn around failing schools.

The schools will become part of the public-private partnership programme, a pilot initiative now in its fourth year. A total of 147 schools – roughly half of all state schools, primary and high, in the emirate – will be participating in the programme this autumn. Last school year, 118 state schools participated.

The pilot programme pairs state schools with private education consultancies to introduce the education council’s reform agenda.

At primary schools, the partnerships were accompanied by the introduction of a new standards-based curriculum developed for the education council by the Department of Education in the Australian state of New South Wales, and by the introduction of maths and science taught in English.

Under the public-private partnerships, education management companies help to run existing state schools, which retain their own teachers and principals. At present, a handful of companies are involved in the programme. Among them are the American charter school company Mosaica; a wing of the UAE-based education giant Global Education Management Systems, commonly known as GEMS; and the British firm CfBT Education Trust. Taaleem, the UAE’s second largest private school operator, will join next year.

The expansion of the partnership programme to high schools will focus more on English instruction. Pupils in Abu Dhabi high schools will get an additional 90 minutes of English instruction per week.

On top of the new partnership with teachers working in Abu Dhabi high schools next year, the education council has recently hired 455 native speakers of English to teach at state schools.

The announcement that all state high schools will be part of the pilot programme was made on Thursday at a meeting of state school principals organised by the education council.

At the meeting, Dr Mugheer al Khaili, director general of the council, stressed that schools must co-operate with the ADEC to lift standards.

“The change in the education sector is necessary to achieve the goals of the economic vision of the emirate,” Dr al Khaili said.

He called on school principals to exercise the appropriate initiative and work with the education council to improve schools.

Moving all state high schools into the public-private partnership programme is not the only change planned for this autumn.

When the new year starts, the school day will be extended at state high schools, and students will take four additional periods of English instruction each week and two additional periods each of maths and Arabic-language instruction. School maintenance work has also been outsourced to a private