Friday, March 18, 2011

Abu Dhabi update

After our recent blogs that have focussed on the reports from our friends in Oman describing the events in Sohar and Salalah rather than our doings in Abu Dhabi I felt it about time we updated everyone on our situation here.

Mind you, the reports coming out of Oman certainly gave our decision to leave the contract a degree of retrospective wisdom. We noticed a side bar story in the local paper describing the burning of the Wali’s office and other Government offices in Ibri last week which would indicate that the discontent there is not just confined to the coastal centres. This week there were reports of strikes in Muscat and the industrial areas around Muscat that had closed down the airport and many of the businesses there as the workers demanded better employment conditions and pay from the Omani government than they presently get despite the Sultan ceding some responsibilities to a small partly elected part of the central government rather than retaining the concentration of power in the Appointed Council of Ministers around the Sultan.

Abu Dhabi is certainly less tense than Nizwa and certainly a lot quieter than the events, reported on Aljazerra, CNN and BBC world news, in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt,Syria,Saudi and other states in the area would suggest.

Which makes our decision that the Nizwa contract was not working out for us and giving notice to CfBT a wise one.

We were casting around looking for work in the UK, in the ME and, as a last resort, back in NZ so I was relieved to be offered a position with Cognition in Abu Dhabi as an English Advisor in a Preparatory school in central Abu Dhabi.

The position is similar to that which I was doing in Doha although I’m now working with Grades 6-9 rather than Grades 10-12.

The English curriculum here is a Theme driven one based on a marriage between the NSW and Queensland curricula over-written with UAE relevance references unlike the Qatari curriculum that was based on a set of descriptions of language acquisition written by a UK consultancy without the prescribed themes, although the examples demonstrating ways in which the curriculum could be taught often drove the ways the teachers taught their way through the forest of descriptors (standards).

The school is regarded as high achieving with good results in the external examinations and a very supportive administration. It has, however, been through several advisory programmes since the education reforms were implemented in the Emirates. From what I have gathered it was part of an American advisory programme for several years that created a dependency complex among the teachers in which they relied on the US advisors to create the Unit & lesson plans along with the individual lessons for the teachers each week (I haven’t discovered if the advisors did the marking as well even though the teachers assure me that this was a common expectation.) based on a formula that went something like: Sunday-phonetics, Monday - Grammar, Tuesday - paragraph reading, Wednesday - sentence writing and Thursday - testing. After the American’s left the school came back into the MoE system until mid way through the second trimester of this year which meant that the teachers simply taught through the textbook tasks then had to change their approach to meet the demands of the Thematic curriculum taken from the NSW-Queensland programmes.

This means that my job is to convince the teachers that they need to become more proactive in their unit & lesson planning in order to address the demands of the curriculum as well as setting up systems that will be sustainable after we complete the contract.

In many ways it is similar to the situation in Qatar but whereas I came into the school at the beginning of the academic year here I arrived six weeks before the second trimester was to end which has meant the teachers had already attempted to implement the curriculum based on minimal advice from the Company and worksheet raids on other schools and the inter-net. This has meant that doing any advance planning has to be for the third trimester and has to be combined with a search for suitable, accessible resources to address the themes nominated by the Education Council.

My efforts so far have resulted in my locating a few resources (teacher reference only) that may and could be mined to create lessons to fit the themes of “My Imaginary World (Grade 6), Heritage (Grade 7), Our Community (Grade 8) and From School to Work (Grade 9). While the few texts I have found are a beginning the final unit & lesson planning will be extract based as the English Department has no established resource library or store of reading levelled texts to draw on. (Just another challenge.)

So I’m looking forward to the challenges involved as I try to build up positive relationships with the teachers while resisting their demands for me to write and provide all the unit & lesson plans for all four grades before the end of this trimester!!

Personally, Joy & I have been busy getting ourselves established and settled into Abu Dhabi as we work our way through the system to get residency, bank accounts, drivers licences and ID cards. The process has been reasonably smooth. We have a bank account and my residency close enough for me to start the application to sponsor Joy and for her to get residency.

Joy has joined up with Priscilla Ellis, her friend for Doha, and begun exploring the Malls and sights of the city which has given Joy the inspiration to begin painting again and to explore some different approaches to the themes which she has explored since we came to the Gulf so that our apartment is beginning to get a more colourful look.

I’ll post some photos of her new works on our next blog.

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