The significance of the English language in the UAE has grown exponentially over the past few years due to the effects of globalization and the development of economic and cultural ties between the UAE and the rest of the world. Similarly, more opportunities have opened to female students in the UAE due to the cultural changes in the identified society. Therefore, new challenges and opportunities emerged from female English teachers in the UAE educational setting. The “teach-to-the-test” approach as one of the factors that hamper the progress of female learners is one of the primary issues that need a better focus.
The “teach-to-the-test” approach, which suggests that the learners do not need to acquire the knowledge that goes beyond what is needed to complete school tests, is, unfortunately, gaining increasingly high influence in the UAE educational setting. The specified problem affects female schools, especially since female teachers have admittedly little voice in the UAE educational setting 9). As a result, the quality of education, as well as the success of female students in the UAE educational institutions, is jeopardized heavily.
The goals of the paper include:
- Exploring the problems of the “teach-to-the-test” approach and its current link to the UAE curriculum;
- Determining the degree to which UAE female teachers can influence the curriculum and therefore, improve the current situation;
- Identifying the strategies for managing the problem in question in the UAE female school setting;
- Suggesting the tools that can be used to redesign the existing curriculum and address the problems associated with the “teach-to-the-test” approach in UAE female schools.
The paper is aimed at exploring the effects that CL, in general, and PA, in particular, has on the academic progress of learners. Specifically, the female members of the UAE educational environment will be assessed. Put differently, the purpose of the paper is to determine the effects that the TttT approach has on the educational processes in the UAE setting. Particularly, female schools will be taken into account.
The reason for considering the issue in question is rather basic. The TttT approach has been part and parcel of the UAE educational system for quite a while, yet its negative effects have been spotted only recently. Therefore, the need to introduce a new approach that could help students take complete account of the use of the acquired skills and knowledge has emerged. The TttT framework does not allow learners to recognize the importance of learning specific information and developing certain abilities. Furthermore, the communication between a teacher and a student may be impeded with the further enhancement of the TttT approach due to the use of uniform feedback tools. Thus, it is crucial to reconsider the current approach toward the formative and summative assessment of students. While eliminating the TttT approach from the curriculum completely would be unreasonable since there are the tasks that require mechanical skills application, using the specified tool as the ultimate method of students’ evaluation is not only erroneous but also harmful for learners. Thus, the TttT principle and its application in the UAE setting need to be reconsidered.
The suggested approach is linked directly to the module outcomes. Particularly, the strategy used to improve the current situation regarding the use of the TttT approach can be viewed as the basis for the reconsideration of the curriculum framework and the introduction of a new, student-centred approach. To be more specific, the principles of meta-cognition as the means of helping students understand how they develop the necessary skills and acquire the relevant knowledge can be built. As a result, it is expected that the students will be able to develop independence in their learning process.
In other words, the significance of the paper lies in the introduction of an innovative approach to managing the needs of learners by promoting independence among them and contributing to the development of the skills that would, later on, help them engage in self-directed learning, The framework, therefore, is bound to contribute to students developing a better understanding of why they learn specific subjects, how they can use the newly acquired knowledge and skills in their further academic and professional development, and how they can improve their current skills.
The paper also sheds light on the role of educators in the process, stressing the fact that it is imperative to encourage collaboration between teachers and administrators. Thus, the perfect curriculum can be created so that the needs of learners could be met.
UAE and English as a Global Language
The significance of English-speaking skills has grown greatly in the UAE over the past few years, in which the globalization process has played a significant role. One might argue that the specified changes may have affected the UAE culture: “Although the global power of English brings with it great opportunities, progress, increased knowledge and a sense of excitement, there are also notable concerns about the negative effects such a powerful language has on local languages and cultures” (Hopkyns 2014, p. 1).
The “teach-to-the-test” approach has recently become a troubling tendency in the UAE academic setting, which is an admittedly big reason for concern. While learners need to know how tests are organized and what they are expected to do when doing the tests, it is also crucial to help the target population develop an intrinsic understanding of the language and use it appropriately instead of training them to pass tests (Hebert 2012).
Female Teachers and the Curriculum
Partially because of the cultural specifics of the UAE and partially because of the current regulations as far as the educational setting is concerned, female teachers have surprisingly little power over shaping the curriculum so that the needs of students could be addressed accordingly. Therefore, very little can be done when it comes to altering the current curriculum and creating the environment in which female students will feel comfortable and inclined to developing new skills, as well as acquiring the relevant knowledge.
Although the idea of teaching students the information that will be required specifically to complete tests might not seem bad enough, it, in fact, poses a significant threat to the learners’ ability to acquire, process, and use new information. The propensity toward learning the essential skills by heart rather than trying to understand why they are crucial for becoming proficient in a particular area leads to students losing motivation in the further acquisition of knowledge, as well as the inability to use critical thinking:
Because of that life-defining nature of the Tawjihi (matriculation exams), teachers in high schools adopt the “teach to the test” strategy and the favorite method is rote learning, which has proven unsuitable for creating professionals who are ready for today’s global economy standards, which require creativity and critical thinking. (Dini, Markey & Mohamad 2015, p. 6)
Therefore, there is evidence that the consistent emphasis on the TttT framework as the only means of formatting and summative assessment is bound to trigger a significant drop in the quality of education. Unless the students will be provided with a different tool for evaluating their skills, they will gradually lose their enthusiasm and will not feel the need to be creative when completing the assignments for their English classes. Therefore, as the target population continues their development as professionals in English, they may eventually reach the necessary level of proficiency, yet they are likely to fail to be creative in their professional field. Thus, it is imperative that UAE female learners should have an opportunity to be creative and independent in the process of learning the English language.
Theories and Their Use in the Change Management Process
When considering the subject matter and especially addressing the current propensity toward the teach-to-the-test (TttT) in the UAE academic environment, one must consider an appropriate theory of curriculum development. It should be borne in mind, though, that each of the current frameworks has its strengths and limitations, thus, allowing improving certain areas, yet creating premises for teachers to fail miserably in others. Therefore, it can be suggested that a combination of several frameworks should be considered a necessity in a case in point. The reasons for the introduction of two theoretical tenets from which the phenomenon of a school curriculum should be viewed are rather simple. A closer look at the issue under analysis will show that the current study is aimed at not only introducing changes to the contemporary UAE educational setting but also altering the values of the target environment so that the identified changes could become part and parcel of the academic system. Therefore, the strategies for managing change and for sustaining it will have to be introduced into the identified academic design.
For the purposes of promoting change, one must consider the reconceptualist theory of curriculum development. Typically viewed as the foundation for introducing alterations into the academic environment, it is believed to be an extension of the humanistic approach. Therefore, it allows incorporating care for the unique needs of learners and the attempt at improving the design of the academic process so that the quality of education could be increased significantly: “Reconcentualists focus on education’s larger ideological issues. They investigate and influence society’s social, economic, and political institutions. Reconceptualists are more interested in theory rather than practical applications” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 8).
Therefore, the framework should be considered as the basis for changing the attitude toward the TttT approach as the means of encouraging the students to engage in the learning process. Particularly, the reconceptualist theory of curriculum design will become the tool for changing teachers’ and students’ perspective of the learning process and allowing them to view learning as more than the acquisition of skills for passing a test.
It could be argued that the suggested framework has a significant weakness, which is the lack of an appropriate model for administering change and controlling the outcomes. On the one hand, the identified issue can be viewed as a large problem. Indeed, without the necessary directions, the improvements will not be made to the UAE schools’ design:
To some curriculum scholars, the reconceptualist approach to curriculum largely extends the humanistic approach. Others argue that conceptualism is concerned with change and reform. Still, others argue that reconceptualists lack an approach because they lack a model for developing and designing curriculum. (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 8)
On the other hand, the change can be administered with the help of the available models for managing improvements in the context of an organization. For instance, Kotter’s eight-step model can be suggested as the tool for introducing change to the context of the UAE educational institutions and maintaining it. Therefore, the reconceptualist approach should be deemed as a valid theoretical framework on which the process of curriculum management should be based.
As good as the reconceptualist approach might seem, it still should be deemed as most efficient primarily at the stage of implementing change. In order to make sure that the suggested changes be safely introduced to the environment of the UAE schools and has been set into motion, one will have to use the academic approach as well. Despite being deemed as the stock tool for coordinating the school curriculum and often taken for granted, the specified framework should be given credit for its propensity to help maintain orderliness in the target environment. Therefore, it should be combined with the reconceptualist theoretical framework as the means of introducing orderliness into the curriculum. Furthermore, the use of the identified theoretical approach toward managing the curriculum will allow for better and tighter control over the effects of changes.
It is also important that the identified theoretical framework allows putting a strong emphasis on the academic progress of learners. By design, the academic framework of curriculum management suggests that educators should pay special attention to the unique needs of learners and address them in an appropriate manner (Pacini-Ketchabaw, Nxumalo & Kocher 2014). Thus, the premises for their rapid progress in the designated areas can be created:
The use of the academic theoretical tenets in tandem with the reconceptualist approach is crucial for the creation of the environment that will be favorable for learners. With a heavy stress on change and the need to alter the academic setting, teachers may unintentionally put significant pressure on the learners (Zajda 2015). As a result, the latter are likely to experience difficulties in learning due to the need to both study and adjust to the newly designed standards. Thus, it is important to make sure that the target population should have an opportunity to focus on learning and enjoy the environment that will encourage rapid knowledge and skills acquisition. The academic approach, in its turn, will help focus on learning:
The academic approach has partly returned to the current focus on the nature and structure of knowledge as current curricularisis address curriculum from a postmodern academic perspective. Attention is now on understanding how knowledge can be constructed, deconstructed, and then reconstructed. (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, p. 8)
In fact, the framework in question may be used as the foundation for introducing learners to an entirely new idea of metacognition. By definition, the phenomenon implies that students should be able to learn how they acquire knowledge and skills. In other words, the very process of learning should be studied and scrutinized. As a result, the students will be able to improve their learning by accelerating the process and considering the factors that improve or inhibit it.
Applying the identified approaches to the context of TttT, one should consider the change of attitudes among learners and teachers alike toward the current framework. It is essential to introduce new system of assessments, as well as an improved system of values that will allow focusing on the analysis of knowledge acquisition and the further improvement thereof. This is the point at which the academic theory of curriculum development factors in; by changing the loaners’ and teachers’ perspective with the help of the reconceptualist approach, one will be able to promote the principles of metacognition as the tool for empowering learners to be more independent in their academic progress. The identified step will be accomplished with the help of the academic theoretical framework, which can be viewed as the tool for enhancing the process of self-reflection and, thus, will encourage students to learn more actively about their unique properties as students.
As a result, the learners’ attitude toward the idea of the TttT-based studying will be altered significantly. It is expected that, with a deeper understanding of how they develop the relevant skills, the learners will recognize the significance and usefulness thereof. As a result, the students will learn that the TttT approach will not help them gain the necessary knowledge and skills but, instead, will hamper the further acquisition of the relevant information.
Discussion: Suggested Methods and Their Effects
Observations carried out in the setting of a UAE school during English classes have shown that placing a heavy emphasis on the use of TttT does affect the levels of performance and proficiency among learners negatively Particularly, an overview of the ways in which the learners interacted with each other during classes has shown that the target population displayed rather low levels of engagement after being provided with TttT as the tool for evaluating their skills. Which is even more important, the learners did not display any willingness to learn more about the nature of specific English-language-related phenomena after several days of TttT being used as the key formative assessment tool.
Apart from a rapid drop in the motivation levels among the target population, a significant decrease in the levels of proactiveness could be observed. The learners were less eager to engage in the activities requiring the use of speech-related skills. Therefore, it can be assumed that the introduction and active promotion of TttT as the primary means of assessment contribute to a rapid reduction in engagement levels among female UAE students.
The observations of the changes in the students’ attitude toward the English language with the introduction of TttT into the curriculum have also shown that the use of TttT as the primary means of assessing the learners’ knowledge and skills contributed to a rapid drop in the flexibility levels as far as the choice of the classroom activities and the types of interactions between the teacher and the students are concerned. The students have shown a significant drop in their motivation as far as the participation in dialogues and group discussions were concerned; in fact, their engagement was growing in inverse proportion to the number of communication participants involved. As a result, the learners seemed to lack interest in communicating with each other, as well as providing support to each other during group activities (see Fig. 1).
As the graph provided above shows, the students were completely disinterested in group communications by the end of the second week after the introduction of the TttT teaching approach. A slight increase in engagement levels could be observed during Day 10, which can be attributed to the fact that a new and exciting topic (i.e., exotic places and travelling experiences) was introduced to the students. However, the further use of TttT as the primary means of assessing the learners’ abilities has shown that the motivation levels have dropped significantly.
Furthermore, an assessment of the students’ understanding of English and the relevant grammatical rules has shown that, after the introduction and active promotion of TttT, the female learners had a rather vague idea about the reasons for making a particular choice when doing an exercise. For instance, among the primary results of the observations, the propensity among learners to respond to why they have chosen a particular tense when doing exercises to answer in the following manner: “I don’t know” has been identified.
The identified tendency can be deemed as rather troubling seeing that the students need to develop an intrinsic understanding of the language. While learning the rules and exceptions to them is an important part of developing the relevant skills, at some point, the students will have to develop independence in their use of English and try abandoning the by-the-book approach. The TttT strategy, in its turn, clearly prevents students from building confidence that will, later on, help them develop learning independence.
The issue mentioned above is especially important in the context of the UAE educational setting. As stressed above, female learners experience significant social pressure and, therefore, may feel unmotivated to excel in their academic endeavours. A similar tendency could be observed in the target educational setting as well. Particularly, 73% of the students confessed that they did not receive the required support from their family members. Therefore, they need to receive extensive support and a powerful impetus from their educators and especially the environment in which the learning process takes place. The use of TttT, however, triggers a rapid drop in the overall level of support that the students are supposed to receive from the teachers.
The specified results stand in a striking contrast to the outcomes of the previous assessment, during which the students’ responses to the same question varied form a textbook definition of the relevant grammatical rule to a variation of the statement “It just feels right.” Although a teacher should not condone the lack of reasoning among learners, the latter statement is also an important sign of the students’ growth as learners since it shows that they develop a natural understanding of how the English language works.
The results of the formative assessment conducted after the use of the TttT framework, however, has shown quite graphically that not only do the students lose their motivation when facing the need to do TttT on a regular basis but also fail to develop the intuitive understanding of the language that is needed to succeed in learning. Allowing teachers to be flexible is the first step toward addressing the “teach-to-the-test” problem. In other words, it is necessary to make sure that the curriculum should be altered toward a greater variability of tasks and a larger number of discussions that allow students to voice their opinions.
Redesigning the formative and summative assessment strategies is another way of managing the issue. It is crucial that the curriculum should incorporate different types of evaluation frameworks, including not only tests but also the simulations of real-life scenarios, the assignments requiring writing essays and other types of papers, etc. Thus, the foundation for building a strong knowledge system in the students can be created.
It would be wrong to claim that there is no place for TttT in the current UAE educational environment, though, even when it comes to addressing the issue of learning English. Quite on the contrary, it is crucial to create the environment in which students will be able to engage in a conscious process of language learning; however, it will also be required to make sure that the learners understand the testing requirements and are familiar with the test format. Tests as the means of knowledge assessment require that a set of specific questions should be answered within a rigid deadline. Therefore, the students must be able to complete tests as a way of showing that they possess the required knowledge and are able to apply it to solve practical tasks. However, moulding the curriculum based on the content of a test is entirely wrong since it does not give the learners the understanding of how the language works and how their newly developed communication skills be used to solve specific problems.
The introduction of a different approach toward the assessment of the learners’ progress, however, delivered rather positive results. Particularly, the use of the assessment techniques based on actual interactions between a teacher and a student, with the number of TttT assignments reduced significantly, triggered an immediate increase in the engagement levels.
Furthermore, the change of the curriculum toward the model that encouraged a less robotic assessment of the students’ progress allowed for a better understanding of the material and, therefore, a more efficient learning process. In fact, apart from acquiring the relevant information at a significantly faster pace and a more active participation in group activities, including dialogues, the students have shown a strong propensity toward meat-cognitive processes. Particularly, the learners were genuinely enthusiastic about finding out how their learning process worked and how they could acquire new information faster. Thus, new mnemonic approaches have been designed, and new strategies for studying have been created. To be more specific, some of the learners discovered that they could engage in self-directed learning by using online tools for building their vocabulary and communicating with native speakers online via social networks.
Therefore, the observations show that, having as little support as they do, female students in the UAE setting need to be provided with the types of skills assessment that does not require learning the rules mechanically but, instead, demand engagement in the meta-cognition process. Therefore, the TttT framework that has been used for decades in the UAE female educational environment has to be replaced with a new approach. Ousting the TttT tool form the target setting completely would be wrong; however, a new type of skills evaluation must be introduced as the leading one in UAE female schools. It is strongly suggested that direct communication with the teacher, as well as dialogues and group discussions, should be viewed as the primary means of assessing the learners’ skills. Consequently, the teaching strategy must be changed from the different framework to a more comprehensive approach that involves a conscious us of the information acquired during lessons and the completion of individual projects.
The current situation regarding the curriculum for female students learning English is geared for the most part toward teaching them to answer the test questions which is not the right way to help them learn to speak English. Therefore, a change in the curriculum must be made so that the learners could develop the skills that will help them speak English fluently.
Therefore, a heavy emphasis must be placed in the use of interactions between the students and the teacher, as well as among the learners. It is crucial that the curriculum should include an extensive amount of activities that involve dialogues and group discussions, as well as presentations and other types of oral assignments. Thus, the learners will be able to abstract away from the factors that impede their academic progress, e.g., the lack of family support and confidence, the fear of making a mistake, etc. Consequently, the target population will develop the skills that will help them become proficient in English.
At a larger scale, the changes to the curriculum that will imply a drop in the significance of TttT assessments must be made not only in the area of English language studies but also in the rest of the domains, including Mathematics, Social Studies, business and Economics, law, and other areas. It is crucial to make sure that the students apply the acquired skills consciously hen solving specific problems; otherwise, they will be unable to grow academically and professionally.
Dini, JA, Markey, J & Mohamad, G 2015, ’Education, technology, and the Middle East’, Journal of Applied Learning Technology, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 35-40.
Hebert, DG 2012, ‘International comparisons in the improvement of education’, Signum Temporis, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 17-27.
Hopkyns, S 2014, ‘The effects of global English on culture and identity in the UAE: a double-edged sword,’ Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Gulf Perspectives, vol. 11. no. 2, pp. 1-20.
Ornstein, AC & Hunkins, FP 2013, Curriculum: foundations, principles, and issues, Pearson, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V, Nxumalo, F & Kocher, L 2014, Journeys: reconceptualizing early childhood practices through pedagogical narration, University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Zajda, J 2015, Nation-building and history education in a global culture, Springer, New York, NY.