The examined curriculum is the New School (NS) Curriculum designed as a part of the Abu Dhabi Education system reform. The NS Curriculum was implemented in all Abu Dhabi kindergartens and first-grade classes in 2011. Further on, it was likewise implemented in Grades 4 and 5 in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The curriculum is defined as “An Outcome-Based Curriculum” since a particular emphasis is put on the establishment of a new paradigm of learning objectives that are supposed to be accomplished with the implementation of this curriculum (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2016).
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Vision, Mission, and Values
The mission of the NS Curriculum is to ensure that Abu Dhabi learners exhibit the essential skills as well as the relevant level of understanding of each subject that complies with the standards set within the NS Education Model. The vision of the NS Curriculum is to establish a consistent student-centered education system that would allow for continual improvement of the learning outcomes. The NS Curriculum prioritizes such values as individual approaches supported by the integration of the new technologies. Likewise, it puts a particular emphasis on the enhancement of students’ literacy and consistent development of teachers’ professionalism (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2016).
Analyzing the key characteristics of the NS Curriculum, it can be suggested that its design relies on Dewey’s philosophy, according to which, “education perpetuates and improves society by properly organizing learners’ experience” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009, p. 150). Thus, this thesis was reproduced by Dr. Pierson, the ADEC’s Director, during her speech at Bedaya Forum. Hence, the speaker noted that the implementation of the new education model and the upgrade of the curriculum was mainly aimed at letting the local learners acquire a “meaningful learning experience, indoor and outdoor spaces to support physical and social learning” (Khamis, 2010, para. 8).
Curriculum Learning Theory
The analysis of the NS Curriculum shows that the major learning theory underpinning its content is constructivism. This theory puts a particular focuses on learner’s individuality, free exploration, and autonomy. The new curriculum appears to envision similar prospects. Hence, it is aimed at providing students with a wide range of learning tools and resources, letting them develop their individual approaches to studies (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2016). Farah and Ridge (2009) believe that the shift to a more liberal learning theory is the result of the intensive intrusion of the Western ideology in Abu Dhabi’s institutions.
According to the official data, the NS Curriculum relies on a set of standards that define the criteria for the desired learning outcome, within every subject dimension. These standards are established by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) and, thus, are obligatory for all the educational institutions in Abu Dhabi. The main feature of the new standards is that they prioritize the learners’ language speaking skills – the latter are expected to exhibit a good command of both Arabic and English (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2016).
It is important to note that the new standards likewise outline the expected quality of teachers’ performance, making the continuous training of the latter imperative (Khamis, 2010).
From the historical perspective, the new standards offer the extended version of the old content; in the meantime, they remain narrow-focused opposite to the curriculum standards established in other countries. Hence, Farah and Ridge (2009) note that the standards were designed in order to reshape the local education system, according to the Western model. Although the new standards set advanced requirements for language learning outcomes, they appear to neglect such disciples as IT, Art, and Music. The impact of the world trends on the standards shaping is likewise admitted by Dr. Lynne Pierson, that admits that the new curriculum paradigm is “based upon the highest international standards” (Khamis, 2010, para. 6).
The subject set of the NS Curriculum comprises English, Arabic, and other languages that are united in a World Literacy group, mathematical sciences, social science traditions, science, arts, music, and humanities. It likewise includes physical education and healthy living (see App.1).
The skillset, in its turn, comprises critical thinking, problem-solving, information use, creativity, innovation, cultural or global awareness, civic and personal responsibility, work ethic, and collaboration. Each of the enumerated disciples is associated with a list of requirements for the expected learning outcomes within this particular domain. Likewise, each skill relates to the associated criteria that describe to what extent it is expected to be developed (Curriculum Content Model, 2010).
Scope and Sequence
The major scope of the instruction time is appointed to Arabic, English languages, and Mathematics, with an insignificant prevalence of the former. Science and religion are second in the frame of the scope of time allocated for a particular subject. A significant amount of instruction time is likewise appointed to social studies. Other disciples turn out to be less time-consuming, while music is not represented at all. It is essential to note that the described norms are relevant to those established by the UAE MOE – the correlation for those established by UAE MAG can vary insignificantly (Farah & Ridge, 2009).
Content’s Alignment with the Standards
The curriculum’s content is properly aligned with the set standards. Hence, for instance, the standards provide for the enhancement of learners’ linguistic competence and the formation of a bilingual individual (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2016). As a result, the major part of instruction time is appointed to such disciplines as Arabic and English languages (Farah & Ridge, 2009). Similarly, according to Dr. Al Khaili, the new standards aim to raise an “appreciative of the UAE heritage and culture” (Khamis, 2010). As a consequence, the skill-related sector of the curriculum content puts a particular emphasis on the need for developing a strong cultural competence (Curriculum Content Model, 2010).
Instructional and Learning Strategies
The learning strategy that composes the basis of the NS Curriculum is the so-called “whole child philosophy,” which implies the implementation of a multifaceted approach to learning. According to the Abu Dhabi Education Council (2012), teachers are supposed to apply varied pedagogical methods and tactics in order to ensure the complex development of a learner’s personality. Thus, in the course of their studies, learners need to be trained to enhance their social, problem solving, attitudinal, emotional, and innovation skills (see App. 2). In other words, teachers are instructed to move beyond the knowledge scope and integrate diverse methodologies into their practice.
Scope of Diversity in the Curriculum
The NS Curriculum does not imply a wide scope of diversity. Thus, the curriculum does not appear to offer any differentiation by gender, sex, or other identities. Likewise, it does not provide for choosing a program in accordance with a particular level of difficulty. The only natural differentiation it implies is the grade level classification.
Use of Technology
Technology is one of the key priorities of the NS Model – the NS Curriculum puts a particular emphasis on the importance of the use of technology resources in the education process. Thus, in her speech, Dr. Lynne Pierson emphasizes the need for establishing “the technology-rich learning environment” (Khamis, 2010, para. 7). From this perspective, it is likewise critical to point out the significance of the e-learning format in the context of the new education model. Hence, in accordance with the NS Curriculum, teachers are required to demonstrate appropriate use of the e-learning facilities in order to provide substantial learners’ support (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2016).
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At the internal level, the ongoing test assessment is recognized to be the central instrument for effective education processes. Thus, both students and teachers undergo tests in different domains in order to demonstrate their progress through the course of the education flow (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2016). It is important to note that teachers are likewise trained and tested onsite – according to Dr. Pierson, it helps to maintain the integrity of the learning process and create a healthy and favorable education environment (Khamis, 2010).
External assessment is carried out on the basis of the UAE National Assessment Program (UAENAP) developed with the intensive collaboration with Australian Researchers. The designed program aims to assess the extent to which learners’ progress in the context of the new education program complies with the set standards. The program comprises various tests in three disciplines: Mathematics, Science, Native and English Languages. The assessment results are highly assistive in terms of evaluating the efficacy of the curriculum. Hence, for instance, the essentials of the NS Curriculum were defined on the basis of the findings of the UAENAP in November 2010 (Egbert, 2012).
Internal assessments are carried out on an ongoing basis, and their main target is to ensure a consistent track of the learners’ progress. As a result, they might employ various benchmark sets depending on the discipline or the learners’ grades. External assessments, in their turn, target exclusive accuracy since the output information is supposed to reflect the efficacy of the entire education model. The learners start being tested from Grade 3 and retake the assessment tests every two years. The tests are held in Languages, Science, and Mathematics (Egbert, 2012).
Assessment’s Alignment with the Standards
All the assessments are aligned with the set standards. It is important to point out that the new standards implemented on the basis of the NS Curriculum are designed to comply with the international education standards. In such a manner, UAE learners can consider different prospects of further education and are enabled to apply to the world recognized universities in case their results meet the relevant requirements (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2012).
Curriculum Review & Reform
Internal Review and Validity of the Curriculum
According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2009), the validity of a curriculum can be ensured through determining the relevant standards, collecting the essential data, and applying the standards to evaluate the quality. From this perspective, the NS Curriculum is valid since it complies with the international education standards and relies upon the recognized learning theories and philosophies.
The validity evaluation should be likewise supported by the long-term evidence that is impossible to retrieve at the current stage when the period of the NS Curriculum implementation is so insignificant. Therefore, to date, the pay-off evaluation method is the only alternative available as it allows drawing conclusions relying on the “short-term results of a curriculum” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009, p. 283).
External Review and Validity of the Curriculum
At the external level, the validity of a curriculum is commonly tested by measuring the key indicators of the education progress (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2009). From this perspective, it is important to point out that with the implementation of the NS Curriculum, the instruction time for some disciplines that have been prioritized in the frame of the new education model (i.e., English Language and Science) has increased by 30%. Meanwhile, for other prioritized subjects, such as Native Language, the instruction time remains at the level of 2004-2004, which means that the efficacy of the implementation is only partially evidenced by the practical outcomes (The Ministry of Education Strategy 2010 – 2020, n. d.). Meanwhile, since the plan is designed for a ten-year period, the current evaluation of its validity might be irrational.
Human and Financial Resources
Effectiveness of Human Resources
In order to comply with the set standards and accomplish the target strategic objectives, the implementation of the NS Curriculum is supported with consistent human resources. Hence, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (2012) notes that most professional specialists in Arabic and English languages are involved in enhancing learners’ bilingual competence. Additionally, the human resource is supported by the active inclusion of such stakeholders as government, business embedded centers, and universities that are likely to provide valuable assistance in terms of finance and research.
Effectiveness of Financial Resources
The funding is at the discretion of the entity composed of Abu Dhabi Education Council members, recognized universities, private parties and businesses, and the Ministry Of Higher Education and Scientific Research in UAE. The entity is responsible for allocating funds in an appropriate manner and ensuring its rationale use through consistent monitoring (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2012). Therefore, a reliable funding system was created to allow for effective financial resource allocation.
Strengths and Challenges of the Curricula
First and foremost, it should be pointed out that NS Curriculum is a new project, the efficiency of which will be challenged throughout the implementation period. The opposed curriculum, i.e., Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education, is, on the contrary, a well-established program the efficacy of which has been evidenced throughout the time. It can be noted that both curricula rely on the principle of continuous outcome improvement and student-focused approach to education. In the meantime, Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education exhibits less integrity in its structure – it provides for the design of individual local curricula and allows for the standard discrepancies (Finnish National Board of Education, n. d.).
Both curricula were designed to support the formation of a personality that possesses all the necessary skills and qualities to fit in the modern context. Hence, a particular emphasis is put on the development of communication and research skills that are vital in the age of globalization. Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education is more focused on the formation of an international identity in learners, while NS Curriculum is ambiguous from this standpoint. On the one hand, it strives to provide the learners with an opportunity to meet international standards. On the other hand, it cultivates their national and cultural identities.
Impact of the Global Reform Movement
The impact of the Global Reform Movement on the curricula is not evidently expressed in their content. Hence, none of the curricula puts an emphasis on the commercial aspect of the education process or sets the conditions that would enhance competence within the teaching workforce. Therefore, in the frame of the discussed curricula, education is viewed as continual personality development rather than the means of increasing human capital.
Reflection & Recommendations
The validity of the analyzed local curriculum is evidenced by the integrity of the education principles it promotes and the set standards. The NS Curriculum has a consistently shaped vision and mission and a reliable resource basis (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2012). Since the implementation of this curriculum is still in process, a more accurate evaluation will be possible only upon its completion, when the relevant measurements and assessments will become available.
Upon relying on the analysis of the best practices, it might be proposed that the curriculum avoids an aggressive prioritization of specific subjects and focuses on the consistent improvement of the learning outcomes within all discipline domains.
Lessons Learned From the Project
The work on the project has helped to acquire a better understanding of curriculum structure, the principles of its functioning, and its educational value. Additionally, this research has been useful in terms of developing a more complex approach to curriculum evaluation, showing that measurements and tests are not the only tools that should be used to ensure an accurate assessment.
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Abu Dhabi Education Council. (2016). New School Model. Web.
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Egbert, A. (2012). A clearer picture: national and international testing in the UAE. International Developments, 2(2), 1-6.
Farah, S., & Ridge, N. (2009). Challenges to curriculum development in the UAE. Policy Brief, 16(1), 1-7.
Finnish National Board of Education. (n. d.). Amendments and additions to the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education. Web.
Khamis, M. (2010). Al Khaili announces the launch of the New School Model that will be implemented in all of Abu Dhabi schools within six years. Web.
Ornstein, A., & Hunkins, F. (2009). Curriculum Design. In Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
The Ministry of Educational Strategy 2010-2020. (n. d.). Web.