How do schools in Dubai promote science literacy?

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) defines science literacy as the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions, and to draw evidence-based conclusions in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world and the changes made to it through human activity. The most recent round of the assessment, PISA 2015, focused on 15-year-olds’ science literacy, or their “ability to engage with science-related issues, and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen”. To succeed on the PISA science test, students had to display their mastery in three areas of science literacy: explaining phenomena scientifically (based on knowledge of scientific facts and ideas), evaluating and designing scientific enquiry, and interpreting data and evidence scientifically. Private school students in Dubai who participated in the PISA 2015 scored at or above the OECD average (493) on each of these areas though were just short of 1 point from the average in the area – evaluate and design scientific inquiry[1].

In this edition of KHDA Chatter, we explore how schools in Dubai promote science literacy and foster the mastery of related skills. Following are the vision, mission and strategies of three schools: Al Mawakeb School Al Barsha, Repton School Dubai, and GEMS Wellington International School.

Al Mawakeb School Al Barsha. At Al Mawakeb, the science learning is grounded in the California Next Generation Science Standards. Students conduct practical work that is in the form of guided inquiry facilitated by the teacher. The science curriculum and resources available to students spark cross-curricular and cross-cultural connections. Through exploration of science concepts, students are engaged in learning about the local culture and environment.

Extracurricular activities, such as participation in science competitions and related events like Think Science, provide students with opportunities to apply their learning to new contexts. Students at Al Mawakeb also participate in field trips focused on enhancing science learning such as to Masdar City, Sharjah Planetarium, Archeology Museum, and Green Planet.

At Al Mawakeb, engagement in science learning is accompanied by building awareness of careers in science sooner than later in their academic careers to foster greater interest and understanding for science literacy and all that it can offer. 

Repton School Dubai. Science literacy development is aligned to the British National Curriculum at Key Stage 3, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCES) at Key Stage 4, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) at Key Stage 5. Science learning is extended to students’ participation in clubs and events promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). For example, Repton students in Key Stage 3 participated in a workshop run by volunteers from DP World about the effects of plastic in the ocean; and all students commemorated Earth Day by participating in a variety of activities such as promoting a drive for recycling plastic bottles. Teaching the linkages between science concepts and everyday life is fostered outside school by encouraging students to participate in beach clean ups. Students are also encouraged to attend exhibitions outside of school such as the science fair in Abu Dhabi and the Nobel Prize Museum at City Walk.

GEMS Wellington International School. GEMS Wellington follows the National Curriculum of England and Wales guidelines for science outcomes from Year 1 to Year 6. Primary school students at GEMS Wellington engage in a weekly science or STEM investigation aimed to development specific science-related skills. Teachers foster the development of such skills by encouraging students to discuss scientific ideas, plan investigations and record results in a range of ways. Science content knowledge is linked to creative curriculum themes to embed real-life learning opportunities, as well as the subthemes of EXPO 2020 such as Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. For example, in Year 3, student investigated volcanoes in terms of where they are located around the world and how they are formed while exploring rock formation. Student science subject leaders are identified to help provide ideas on curriculum delivery. Cross-phase links have been made, with subject leaders supporting students at Key Stage 1 in growing plants for the school. They have also had opportunities to develop ideas alongside the Primary phase subject leader, including competitions and acting as ‘science teachers’ for their peers.

For the secondary school years, GEMS Wellington engages students in the traditional sciences while also offering Sports and Exercise Science, Computer Science and Environmental Systems and Societies. Students carry out multidisciplinary group projects to explore science concepts. For example, students engaged in learning about UAE’s responsibility to safeguard the natural environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. Students developed projects that explored ways to utilise the gravitational potential energy of waste water from high-rise buildings to produce electricity. Repton students were also engaged in a project closely tied to the UAE’s ambition to visit Mars. Students explored the challenges that ground crew and astronauts may encounter during a mission to Mars. The entire project was completed on a digital platform. Repton encourages students to explore the creative arts alongside scientific principles to foster creative technological skills.

Fostering Science Literacy for Fun and Relevant Learning. While the schools featured here follow an established curriculum to deliver science education, delivery is not simply a matter of opening up a textbook and learning key terms and following directions for an experiment. Rather, science education aims to foster science literacy among students through real world experiences in their very own context. Science learning, either through school events or excursions around Dubai, is relevant and enjoyable.

On the occasion of the launch of the UAE’s National Advanced Science Agenda 2031 which aims to employ advanced sciences in the creation of solutions to future challenges of national development, Shaikh Mohammad said, “Promoting the advanced science environment in the UAE is the best investment in making the future and a key tool to turn the creativity of human mind into reality.”[2]  Dubai’s students of today are the likely force to sustain this strategy. Students have the opportunity to see how science affects them and the environment around them. With deep, student-centered engagement, students are likely to have a vested interest to learn more and advance further.

[1] KHDA (2017). Dubai PISA 2015 Report Achievement of 15 year olds in Dubai.

[2] Gulf News. Mohammad bin Rashid launches national Advanced Science Agenda 2031. Published on April 1, 2018.

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