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Leave no child behind: boys’ disengagement from education: United Arab Emirates case study

This country case study explores boys’ disengagement from education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The investigation is based on background research, including are view of existing policies and strategies, as well as interviews and focus groups with multiple stakeholders across the country. For data collection, multiple local urban and suburban/rural sites were selected and interviews with school administrators, teachers, male and female students, and parents were conducted. In addition, interviews with individuals from educational ministries, individuals who oversee private schools, individuals who work in higher education, and individuals from the community were also interviewed.
The disengaged Emirati boy is not only a phenomenon that is identifiable by single data points, but he is the product of social structures. With that in mind, a school ecology approach was used to examine the micro-, meso-, and macrosystems factors affecting boys’ disengagement from education. That is individual, peer, and family factors in the microsystem; community in the mesosystem, and school, state, and society in the macrosystem.
The UAE’s education system relies heavily on external partners and input. The system serves about 200 nationalities, but UAE nationals mainly enrol in the free public system. Development of the education system has been a priority for the Ministry of Education, which oversees all levels of education in the country, since 1979. In the UAE, boys are more at risk of dropping out of school, have lower enrolment and progression rates, perform worse on standardized assessments, and are less likely to enrol in higher education than girls.
Overall, the case study finds that Emirati boys, especially those from low socioeconomic households, are at greater risk of being marginalized and alienated from the education system. While boys overall achieve lower grades than girls and have fewer years of education, boys from low-income backgrounds fare the worst. Individual, peer, and family are the primary factors of boys’ disengagement. In addition to socioeconomic status and other family and environmental factors, the report finds that school plays a significant role in pushing boys away from education. Boys’ disengagement is characterized by a school curriculum that is too dense, weak student-teacher relationships, a harsh school environment and limited networks.
While there have been some attempts to re-engage boys through military service, the establishment of specialized vocational schools and other ad hoc programmes, there is not yet a coordinated national approach to address issues around boys’ low performance in and attainment of education in the UAE.
Opportunities for improving boys’ engagement in education are available at the family and socio-economic level and at the school level. At the family and socioeconomic level, recommendations include increasing parental involvement in children’s education and educating Emirati parents and students about the long-term financial benefits of staying in education. At the school level, decreasing curriculum density, improving teacher quality, improving career counselling and providing supplemental support for students at-risk of disengagement are recommended, along with the removal of academic tracking. Efforts to leverage the potential for the military service to be a source of learning and engagement for boys in education and training should also be explored further. It is hoped that this report will shift the focus on boys education in the country.
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