UAEU graduate and expert on ‘gifted education’ outlines how talents of the nation’s elite students can be nurtured

Opportunities for the UAE’s most exceptional students to gain the education that allows them to maximize their potential have improved but must still go further, according to research conducted by a United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) graduate who has become an educational thought-leader.

Dr Mariam Al-Ghawi, Director of the Gifted Welfare Department at Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Educational Award – a Dubai-based non-profit organization focused on promoting and progressing education for the nation’s finest and most promising students – has carried out the first in-depth study into “gifted education programs” in the UAE.

Defined as the schooling of students who have demonstrated certain exceptional abilities, gifted education is, according to Dr Al-Ghawi, a “relatively new” concept in the UAE, meaning there is a lack of research into what has been implemented so far and its effectiveness. Her study, ‘Gifted Education in the United Arab Emirates’, explored programs at seven government primary schools in Dubai, concluding that while provision has improved over the past decade, more needs to be done to identify gifted students and put the right programs in place to ensure their abilities are harnessed.

Dr Al-Ghawi graduated from UAEU with a Bachelor degree in Special Education, and has since completed Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Education at the British University in Dubai. She has worked in the field of gifted education since 2008, having previously been a special education teacher and supervisor, and Vice-Director of the Special Abilities Department in the Ministry of Education, which creates and supervises educational programs for gifted students and students with disabilities.

“In order to prepare children for the expanding global economy in the 21st Century, the education of all students needs to be competitive and innovative,” said Dr Al-Ghawi in her research paper.

“World-class educational standards are currently being established, and educational policies are being formulated based on international best practices. Consequently, more than ever, the field of education – including gifted education – is required to provide meaningful outcomes for all students.”

For her research, Dr Al-Ghawi interviewed specialist subject and gifted-class teachers, school principals and administrators, parents of gifted students, and policymakers from the Ministry of Education, with classroom observations also being conducted. A focus group was organized for parents to share and discuss opinions about programs offered for their gifted children, and a questionnaire distributed.

Based on the findings, Dr Al-Ghawi’s research paper recommended: 

  • The rights of gifted people should be safeguarded through federal laws similar to those that protect the rights of people with special needs.
  • A national authority for gifted education should be created to ensure best practices are followed.
  • A wider training plan for teachers, schools, parents, and the community should be put in place, with areas of focus including the identification of gifted students; the implementation of programs and curricula that ensure their needs are catered for; and ensuring parents of gifted children know the best ways to support them to reach their potential.
  • Launching an awareness campaign to outline the philosophy behind educating gifted children.
  • Establishing a ‘gifted center’ providing its own programs, as well as guidance to schools on how to meet their responsibilities to gifted students.

“The quality and provision of gifted education in the UAE has improved significantly in the 21st Century,” said Dr Al-Ghawi in her research paper. “However, there is still much room for improvement.

“The future of gifted education in the UAE is dependent not only upon the development, dissemination, and implementation of policies prescribed by the Ministry of Education, but also upon an evidence-based approach to the evaluation of gifted education and the management of change.

“The future looks bright for gifted students in the UAE. As emphasized by one of the interviewees who participated in this study, it is essential to keep one’s mind open and accept the change.”

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Aug 8, 2018