How do you create qualified graduates and leading citizens of the future?
DR. KENNETH VEDRA Our mission is to create future leaders for the country and world, a mission we take extremely seriously. Our programs are designed to look at learner profiles. We follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) system for the primary, middle years, and diploma program and then utilize the IB framework within our American curriculum from an academic and social and responsibility standpoint. With new moral education policies being introduced, it works well; hand-in-hand with what we are doing with the learner profile, units of instruction, and the program of enquiry for the children in our primary years programs (PYP). It aligns with the middle years program (MYP) elements as well. Our goal, which is part of our mission, is to produce children who will be successful and become the leaders of tomorrow. All the way through our programs there are community service requirements. In their junior and senior years, they put in at least 50-100 hours of community service in addition to their studies. This creates a well-rounded student who will know their community and understand what it is to give, receive, work with others, collaborate, and learn other soft skills that are critical for them to be successful in the world.
NILAY ÖZRAL Aldar Academies Al Forsan Nursery will be our first nursery, offering Early Years Foundation Stage framework to children ages two to four. Expanding into the nursery market made sense for three reasons: First, in terms of Abu Dhabi's demographics, the waiting list is longer for enrolling younger students, given the youth of the overall population in the Emirate. Second, this is not something that is new to us as the FS1 grades at our other schools offer the Early Years Foundational Stage curriculum. With Aldar Academies Al Forsan Nursery, we are simply expanding our primary education to children as young as two years old. Finally, current studies show that the earlier education starts, the better it is for the future of those students. That being said, the market definitely presents a gap in terms of quality nurseries that emphasize education, with most offering simple babysitting services. At Aldar Academies Al Forsan Nursery, we will put the focus squarely on learning.
DR. ROBERT MILNE ECAE is working a great deal on the professional development of teachers, work that is linked to the impending teacher-licensing regime to improve the skills of teachers who do not posses a pedagogical degree. We support those who need help in a variety of areas with concentrated courses to get them through their teacher licensing. ECAE has also just received permission to open up doctoral degrees. We are providing a doctor of education (EdD) in educational leadership, an EdD in educational technology, and a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in educational neuroscience. The idea behind these programs is to create well-educated experts to push the Emirates forward. We also have a successful master's in education program where we take people who already have an educational degree and help them up the career ladder.
How do your curricula fit within the wider national and international curricula?
KV We teach an American curriculum using the IB framework as well as the national curriculum, and also have Arabic, Islamic, and UAE studies. The challenge is to blend these curricula to fit with the structure of the day, since there are not enough hours, and children need to have some sort of life beyond school. The great part is that we are blending two types of curricula. When we use the IB framework for PYP, the units of instruction take elements of culture and social sciences from the UAE and match them against some of the elements of learning that occur within the American curriculum. Over time, this gives children a different and broader perspective on how they deal with situations. We are extremely proud of the children in the IB diploma program, because they do extremely well, and the second language learners do very well in English and Arabic.
NÖ Many people would say critical thinking and inquisitive learning are extremely important; however, we need to ensure sound foundational learning first. What do companies seek while interviewing candidates? It goes back to great leadership, critical thinking, analytical skills, and teamwork. This is the workforce we want to see in the future, regardless of the industries these jobs are in. Technology will take away many jobs from us in the future, though at the end of the day it is still the human mind that has to write those programs and design them. Critical thinking and creativity will never be replaced by artificial intelligence. As far as Aldar Academies is concerned, there is a great focus on STEAM subjects—science, technology, engineering, arts, and math—because the arts are essential to fostering the creativity that will help our future leaders take their generation to the next level.
RM One of the things in our program objectives is that graduates will be lifelong learners so that they are fairly autonomous and learn new material and ideas. We have to teach them to be able to learn by themselves. In the long term, our educational neuroscience research will also allow us to improve our education. We are just at the stage globally where people are developing the techniques to look at what is happening in the brain and understand this to a small extent. We may be able to find out if people with particular learning difficulties have a problem with a specific part of their brain, or adapt to different people's styles of learning preferences. The advances over the last few years have been tremendous. We can extrapolate and say that, in 10 years' time, there will be a great deal of correlation between neuroscience and education.