I reprint this article in full. It is an early contender for the most important article of the year in the Gulf News:
See also this interview.
Published: 1/7/2005, 14:10 (UAE)
Need has to chance upon necessity
By Dr Elya Zureik
Dr Elya Zureik presents his research on the social cost of student dropouts and the disparity of educational levels between UAE national men and women
High school dropouts are not a phenomenon that is peculiar to the UAE. We see it in other countries as well.
I spent five months researching high school dropouts in Sharjah, as part of my appointment as a UNESCO Chair at the Sharjah Women’s College.
The question that has intrigued me from the start is what accounts for a school dropout in a society that is economically affluent. I carried out an extensive study in 14 secondary schools in Sharjah.
I interviewed 420 boys and girls, more than 100 teachers, the principals of the schools, and distributed questionnaires to social workers, and sample sets of students from grades 10 to 12.
UAE’s educational efforts
What makes the issue of school dropouts singularly important for the UAE is the small size of the UAE national population.
This should technically make the problem manageable, especially as it has at its disposal economic and natural resources that place it in the league of other industrialised countries.
Government education in the UAE experienced phenomenal growth from a meagre enrolment of 230 male students in 1953-1954 to an approximate 300,000 students in 2003-2004.
The most notable increase occurred in female school enrolment, which stood at naught in 1953-54 to reach around 50 per cent of total enrolment in government schools half a century later.
And this does not include the private sector students, most of whom are expatriates.
I gathered information on the flow of the same students in each school as they progressed from grades 10 to 12 starting with 2001-2002.
The indicators that were used to analyse the data covered rates of failure, class repetition, dropout and success at the end of each year.
In order to assess the cumulative contribution of these indicators to student performance across the grades, I constructed two flow charts, one for boys and the other for girls.
Each chart tracked the flow of the entire sample divided by gender from grade 10 to grade 12, taking into account transfer in and out of schools at the beginning of the school year.
Of 1,089 students who started grade 10 in the boys’ sample, 672 graduated from grade 12 (62 per cent), while for the girls’ schools in a sample of 1,078 students in the seven schools who started grade 10, 805 graduated from grade 12 (75 per cent).
With regard to repetition, failure and school dropout; the sample shows that at every grade level, boys manifest higher dropout rates compared to girls.
Grade 10 emerges as the point of disruption in the smooth student flow through the secondary cycle.
Among males, the dropout rate is 13 per cent in the seven male schools surveyed, 18 per cent for repetition, and 20 per cent for failure. By grade 12, these rates drop significantly to between three and four per cent.
The girls’ level of performance is substantially better than boys on each of the four indicators.
Drop out rate in grade 10 in all of the girls’ schools in the sample averaged four per cent and never exceeded eight per cent. Repetition averages 10 per cent for girls in grade 10, with one school showing a rate of 17 per cent.
The pattern is very similar to failure rates. However, once they reach grade 12, the success rate for girls in each of the three secondary grades exceeds 90 per cent.
The reasons for dropping out of school - it is best to describe these in terms of push and pull factors.
The pull factors centre around the enticing reward system of the job market, peer group pressure, family breakup and divorce resulting in economic hardship, and the desire to get married, particularly among girls.
The push factors centre on the uninviting environment of the classroom and the school generally, high volume and repetitiveness of the curricula from year to year, the offering of science subjects to those in the arts stream, behavioural problems in school, lack of motivation by students, and teaching methods focused on rote learning.
A national study carried out in 2003-2004 by the Ministry of Education in the UAE public schools shows a combination of factors that contribute to school dropouts.
One-third of the boys who dropped out of high school in 2003-2004 did so because of recurring absence, 27 per cent because of the need to work, and 14 per cent due to parents’ wish.
For female high school dropouts, one-third dropped out because of marriage, 21 per cent in response to the parents’ wish, and another 21 per cent as a result of repeated absence.
It is clear from the data that once students, particularly boys, pass the hurdle of grade 10, around 90 per cent graduate from high school.
Entry into the labour force should be based on merit and qualifications and not on entitlement.
It is understandable that a country, whose native population is a minority, should want to maintain control of its destiny and secure for itself peace and tranquility, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of acquiring skills and competence. Both are possible.
As means of coping with school dropouts, there are three factors at play. First, by making dropping out of school at an early age less attractive by insisting on a high school diploma for securing a job.
The second factor has to do with improving the school’s environment by making it more of an inviting place for the student. The third factor relates to the home.
Special attention ought to be paid to the curricula by streamlining it and bringing it up to date so that it will be more suitable for a technological world. But this must not be done at the expense of alienating the students from their native environment.
The practice of memorisation in teaching, whereby the student remains passive and does not participate actively in the learning process, runs contrary to the spirit of critical thinking, which a society needs in order to nourish inquisitive minds.
It is in this context that Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Minister of Education, recently discussed the new plans of his Ministry to revamp the examination process.
This is part of a larger, welcome process that deals with curricula changes in the public school system in the UAE (Gulf News 08/06/2005).
There is also a very serious gulf between the home and the school. Special efforts at the community level should be made to draw the parents into the school’s orbit.
Should the current situation continue, in less than a decade we will find a society with immense disparity in education between men and women, which will ultimately lead to familial conflict.
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