While some educators and international experts fear the possible death of the Arabic language because of education policies in the UAE, some non-Arab schools in Al Ain believe that it would not face extinction because the Ministry of Education still maintains a curriculum for the it in all schools, and Arab parents are still encouraging their children to learn the subject.
“Arabic is a living language. Billions of Muslims around the world are associated with Arabic because the Holy Scriptures are written in that language. It would be a living language for them till the doomsday,” said Tanveer Arshad, Principal of Al Ain Juniors.
“Teaching Arabic to Arab students is not a problem because we have books approved by the Ministry and we have allotted so many periods for it since Arabic is considered as the school’s second language. The Arab students are also interested and keen in [learning] the Arabic language. If anything is missed up or if they do not score very well [in their Arabic exams], their parents would come here immediately,” she added.
The Ministry of Education has decreed that Arabic Studies, Islamic Studies and UAE Social Studies should be taught in all schools six times a week for 40 minutes each. Non-Arab schools, which has English as the medium of instruction, is also encouraging their students to speak in Arabic whenever their subjects require them to do so.
“Arabic is not losing its value. In fact, it might become a more ‘user-friendly language’ just like English, which is often integrated into other languages used across the world, but it is definitely not waning.” Said Rocky Miller, Principal of Our Own English High School.
What have could alarmed the educators who thought the Arabic language is in danger is the reduced periods for teaching Arabic. “The Ministry of Education sets that as well as the time that would be allotted for Islamic Studies and UAE Social Studies. But I do my best to give each of the subjects its weight, so for me, there is a balance. I have not gotten any comment from any parent asking me to emphasize more on Arabic or English,” said Elham El Abed, Principal of Al Dhafra Private International School, who was also recognized by the Organization for Protecting the Arabic Language in Sharjah in 2006.
The Advanced Level of Arabic taught in Arab schools was also introduced in non-Arab schools three years ago only, impelling Arshad to produce her own books for the Arab students in her school. “When Al Ain Juniors came into being, I began teaching the same curriculum being taught in Arab schools to our Arab students so that they would not miss out on the three important subjects. It does not make any sense to let an Arab child lose his or her appreciation of the language because he or she does not received the same kind of Arabic education,” Arshad said.
Grades 11 and 12 students are also not required by the Ministry of Education to take Arabic classes (except Islamic Studies) anymore if they do not wish to take it in their senior years. “As a principal of the school though, I advised the parents and the students to take the Arabic language so that they can acquire the Equivalency Certificate and be accepted in the committee of their chosen profession inside or outside UAE,” said El Abed.
But the real challenge is on how to motivate the students, Arab or non-Arabs, to study. “Studying Arabic or any subject is always a challenging task because students just do not want to study, period. It has nothing to do with Arabic, English, Physics, or Chemistry. Children will always say no to the things they do not want, but that does not mean that the language is causing the problem,” said Miller.
Arabic for non-Arabs
If the Arabic language is not widely used in the country as it was before, it is only because of the growing number of expatriates in the UAE. “Anywhere you go, the language is a must. But how come this country is not insisting on the foreigners to know Arabic? They should undergo a training program for it. [Arabic] is a beautiful language. It is the binding force in the Arab world,” said Arshad.
Arshad also criticised the curriculum and the books that do not encourage a non-Arab student to learn Arabic effectively. “The schools are where the problem is. I have written letters to the Ministry of Education, asking them to formulate books that teach Arabic in its spoken form, or supply us with the same kind of material used in the language centers, but they do not take heed.”
The schools were also not advised on how they would deal with non-Arab students who are already in their middle years when they start studying in the UAE. “How would a Grade 6 non-Arab student know where to begin? How would they manage?” she asked.
“Of course, English is there, but they would come across with people who speak Arabic only. Many of the non-Arab students will also stay here after graduating to work, so being able to interact with different people is very necessary. They can all read and write Arabic, but they cannot speak and understand! Unless [the Ministry of Education] takes interest to what is happening in non-Arab schools, Arabic language would suffer,” said Arshad.
Al Dhafra, which has more Arabs in their student population, on the other hand, finds difficulty in teaching English because the native speakers of the language are not staying in their school for long. “In our life, we need to learn everything as much as we can because we need to learn. I believe Arabic is needed like English. But the world today, especially the Gulf area, is tending towards English, so we encourage our students to speak it in school,” said El Abed.
Miller also thinks positive about learning English. “As I always maintain and continue to maintain, it is always good to understand a ‘world language’ like English, and one if not two community languages depending on where you plan to settle down. It is a big world and English is important because you are in it.”
Reference: Call for balance between Arabic and English. Khaleej Times. 24 Feb 2008. http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?xfile=data/theuae/2008/February/theuae_February811.xml§ion=theuae&col=