LIFELONG LEARNING

Ras Al Khaimah | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ross Hall, Executive Principal of RAK Academy, on its push to incorporate technology into its curriculum, the challenges with English proficiency, and the importance of developing soft skills amongst students.

Ross Hall
BIOGRAPHY
Ross Hall has had career in education for the past 35 years, with over 20 of those years in leadership positions. He has qualified at tertiary level in agricultural science and science with chemistry, and has a master’s degree in education. He previously taught in Australia, Singapore, Bangladesh, and Thailand in senior positions. One of the highlights of his tenure at RAK Academy was obtaining both the Council of International Schools and the British Schools Overseas accreditation.

How is technology engaged and incorporated into the education system?

RAK Academy is fortunate that it is in a position now where a major push can be made to introduce the latest ICT initiatives that are in use in other schools around the world and taking on what the best developments in ICT are. Technology is both taught as a subject in its own right as computer science, which has a programming focus, and IT, which is more focused on ICT applications. Technology also has a place in all subjects as a tool to enrich learning and provide virtual experiences beyond what textbooks can provide. We encourage computer programming, app development, and robotics right down to primary schools. On the horizon is artificial intelligence, which is now coming into our lives and will be a big part of the learning platform in schools.

What are the greatest challenges facing the education sector at primary and secondary levels?

The development of literacy and numeracy across all levels is a challenge worldwide and the Emirates is no exception, especially for local students. Many of the local students from an early age are cared for by maids whose first language is not Arabic, and they spend a large amount of time on screens from an early age. They come to school with language skills that are below their age level and show poor development of their mother tongue where proficiency is required for acquisition of a second language. In RAK, the task of developing language is made more difficult as many students only get exposure to English at school. We start to develop their language levels right from kindergarten and, by the time they get to secondary school, students should achieve proficiency in the English language. A significant challenge for the community is to develop Arabic as a mother tongue so that local students can fully access and understand their culture and also learn a second language, which in our case is English as students must first be strong in their own mother tongue.

What are the advantages of Ras Al Khaimah's education system in comparison to the other Emirates and the GCC region?

RAK Academy has more freedom as a school compared to other Emirates. As an educational institution we can operate independently and make our own decisions in terms of day-to-day learning and how we structure our programs. Other Emirates are under the control of their local education authorities, which have a rigid framework of annual inspections that can drive the curriculum. The other Emirates also have their daily operations closely scrutinized and regulated. There is also more space in RAK both at the school level and in the local environment. This makes access easier and also provides many opportunities for students to explore outdoor education. Another advantage for the education system in RAK would be the lower cost environment compared to other Emirates. This not only makes RAK an ideal place to learn but also to live.

To what extent is the development of soft skills among Ras Al Khaimah's schools a priority?

That is certainly the focus of 21st century schools. Communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving are all important soft skills because if students are not engaging in these skills, they are missing out on opportunities available through access to the huge amount of information and data that is accessible through technology. It is through the development of understanding of other cultures, backgrounds, and tolerance that one develops soft skills in young minds. It is part of our guiding statement of global citizenship that tolerance, understanding, and appreciation of other people's backgrounds that may be different from our own and learning from the cultural experience of others is developed. This is a truly important part of international schools in Ras Al Khaimah.