Exploring the experiences of education advisors in leading learning for school reform in the United Arab Emirates

Year: 2015

Author: Govender, Thilo, Aldridge, Jill

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a small oil-rich country that is pursuing economic expansion by purposefully investing in education. The aim is to redefine the education system by constructing a robust educational framework to support the country’s goals of economic sustainability. In 2005 the leadership of Abu Dhabi, the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates within the UAE, founded the Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) in an attempt to transform the region into an innovative and resourceful knowledge-society.

This qualitative study explores the lived experiences of Western-trained, predominantly English first-language teachers and leaders who are employed as education advisors by Public-Private Partnership (PPP) operators. The role of education advisors was to facilitate and deliver on-site school and classroom-based professional learning to local Emirati, Arab and Western expatriate teachers to improve pedagogical knowledge and develop methodological expertise through the mentoring of teachers. Improvement was assessed against set key performance indicators agreed upon between ADEC and PPP operators.

Information was collected using semi-structured and structured email interviews with twenty-five male and female education advisors working in local public schools, with at least six months of experience of working within the PPP. Interviewees were invited to participate using purposive sampling. Participants described their experiences about the successes, challenges and complexities of working as change agents to lead learning.

Initially a phenomenological inquiry investigated the experiences of education advisors in an effort to discern the nature of school improvement as education advisors’ themselves saw it. I subsequently juxtaposed my personal experiences of being an education advisor with the participants’ experiences as a way of being in and understanding these connections through autoethnography.

The results indicate that relational experiences frame moments of success and challenge against a cross-cultural backdrop. The findings also suggest that, in cross- cultural relationships, creating an environment of trust and respect can often enable change to take place positively in schools. In a context of change organisational structures can provide good systems for reform yet it is the quality of relationships within the school that enables the organisation to operate as a cohesive, high- functioning and sustainable institution.

There is a dearth of research related to the role of education advisors in large-scale education reform, specifically from a Middle-Eastern perspective. It is envisaged that the data will provide further understanding of practical methods applied by education advisors for leading successful teacher learning in a cross-cultural context.