Subjects Failing the Distance Learning Test

KHDA inspectors have begun their assessments of the ability of Dubai schools to deliver online learning. Our latest survey shows that focusing on different subjects, at different age ranges, will give wildly different results when it comes to perceptions of success, and the effectiveness of lessons.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19


As KHDA inspectors go into Dubai schools, virtually, to assess online learning, they would do well to focus in on a number of subject areas that parents think are being handled the least effectively.

Arabic (highlighted by an incredible 18.43% of parents), Maths (almost 10 percent), and the Sciences (8.43%) stand out in terms of core, academic subjects with issues, however physical education is also highlighted as an area that is not working for a large number of parents (noted by 12.57% of respondents). Interestingly PE rises in importance with age. Parents of students in post-16 education are by far the most likely to cite its delivery as an issue.

It is clear that what concerns parents is very much determined by the age group of their children.

The delivery of Maths is of most concern in Secondary 4 and Secondary 5 - that is the oldest year groups immediately prior to and in post-16 education. However it is something of a universal concern, and noted by parents even with the youngest children. Some 9% of parents in KG still cite it as a concern.

Parents of students in Secondary 4, those immediately before exams at 16, are most concerned by the delivery of English, although parents of children in KG are not too far behind. Clearly, the needs of the two age ranges would vary widely! The delivery of English an issue falls to just 5% for those in Post-16 (Secondary 5) based education.

As noted, Arabic is another universal concern, however parents in KG and Primary are most likely to cite it as an area where they have difficulty delivering lessons. By Secondary 4 and 5, students are, to some degree, independent learners.

Secondary 3 and Secondary 4, i.e. those engaged in pre-16 education, are the most likely to be suffering when it comes to the delivery of the sciences. Science has hardly registered as a subject in KG, although the jump to Primary is notable, moving up from 2% of parents citing its delivery as an issue to 8%.

Art is not a significant concern in any year group, save perhaps Secondary 3, that is, those students moving into secondary for the first time. This age group is likely to have been introduced to techniques and concepts for the first time, and perhaps have yet to become confident enough to be independent with them. It's a similar story for Drama, which as a subject for distance learning delivery seems to have issues for Secondary 3, and slightly less so for Secondary 4. For KG and to a lesser extent Primary it has yet to register.

For most subjects KG parents are the least likely to complain about the effectiveness of delivery. However for Arabic, Reading and Music they are the parents that suffer the most. For reading and music, they are in a league of pain of their own. 

Elsewhere, the data is revealing in showing that Secondary 4, those students heading into exams at 16, are those that, in most subjects, have struggled the most. Educators will clearly need to implement subject matter 'gap analysis', as this year's students move into Post-16 education for the first time.

Schools are continuing to adapt online delivery, based on feedback from their parents, and there is no doubt that improvements are being made. While few schools, or even parents, would say they love KHDA inspections, we have noticed a lot of positive comments coming our way regarding improvements being made as the inspections of online, distance learning programmes begin. We hope this continues.

What we are not so sure we would like to see continue, certainly not in an enforced way, is distance learning itself. At the moment, the MoE has mooted the possibility of its continuance in its three scenarios. What is interesting is that even in its most favourable scenario, which sees an almost complete abeyance of Covid-19, some form of distance learning is expected to continue. Clearly educators, students, and perhaps parents, have seen unexpected advantages in it, that can continue long after the Covid-19 threat recedes.

Note: The source for the data in this article comes from the Online Survey for Distance Learning. So far we have had 300 responses to the survey from across UAE schools. If you represent a school and would like to have specific feedback for your own institution, please send an email to [email protected] and we will see what we are able to do.

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