Education at its best

In 2012, the American University of Dubai (AUD) added a new department to its faculties – The School of Education. The department aims at training elementary and secondary school teachers through a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree focused solely on educator preparation. To learn more about this program and the education system across the UAE, we got talking to Dr. Catherine Hill, Dean and Associate Professor, School of Education, AUD.


“When I first joined the American University of Dubai in January 2012, there was no school of education. However, there was an approved and accredited proposal by the Ministry of Education to establish this school. I was brought on board to launch the program. Thus, by moving to the UAE from the United States of America, I had to discover the education system in the country and Dubai in particular and assess what teachers needed. As dean, I needed to represent AUD, the School of Education and introduce the program to elementary and secondary schools,” stated Dr. Catherine.


“Classes started in September 2012 with 19 students,” she added. The first cohort graduated in May 2014 and included twelve M.Ed. degree candidates representing eight schools in Dubai and one in Sharjah.


The university offers a Professional Teaching Certificate (PTC) program that focuses on building and strengthening the instructional practices of teachers and career changers. “We have two defined tracks: elementary and secondary school teachers. Additionally, we admit career changers and administrators, as they need to work with teachers and have to understand what teachers know, should know and should be able to do.”


Through this program, the School of Education at AUD aims to provide the region with educators who are current in pedagogy, instructional technologies, and content knowledge and committed to ongoing professional learning for the benefit of their students. “The program is focused on teacher’s education,” said Dr. Catherine. “The role of a teacher is the most important result of education researches over the last ten years. Teachers have a huge influence on students’ development. They are the ones helping a child succeed and find their place in the world.”   


Committed to enhance education schemes particularly in the areas of teacher quality and continuous improvement, Dr. Catherine affirmed that too many people across the planet are teaching in a mediocre way and don’t really care about students. “Unless those teachers really care about children and whether or not they succeed, they won’t be functioning as highly qualified teachers.”


On a separate note, the American professor noticed a common concern among parents in this part of the world about the career their sons and daughters will have. “When you are 18 years old, chances are that your interest is influenced by what your parents want for you. Therefore, it is a challenge to uncover what you really want to do in life. I think, it is a challenge that we are not addressing as much as we could here, which is why we don’t have an undergraduate degree nor a bachelor degree in education at AUD. My concern is that well-meaning families will push their children, particularly their daughters into education assuming they can study math or science as they think these majors might be easier than different fields.”


Dr. Catherine acknowledged that universities are growing rapidly in the country. “I think that the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research understands that the growth of universities has to be monitored, and quality shouldn’t be sacrificed for growth and profit. The ministry along with local education authorities like Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) are doing their best at monitoring the quality of schools.”


The Dean of School of Education asserted that the UAE is relatively a new country and is poised to learn from the mistakes of long standing western systems. “Mistakes are not bad to make. In fact, they become our best teachers as long as we learn from them. The biggest mistake that needs to be addressed is standardization of education systems, wherein credentials become more important than what a teacher can do in the classroom,” she said. “I have some outstanding career changers coming from different industries, and within a master’s program of two years, training will make them excellent teachers.”


Moreover, she confirmed that challenges facing education systems are pretty much the same in the UAE when compared to that in the US. “Whether I am in the US or here in the UAE, I find that challenges tend to be the same. Multiculturalism, a growing reality in the US, is one of the main challenges. We live in a globalized world whether we like it or not. Thus, we need to understand how to work with one another and how to lean into one another’s culture in order to produce positive outcomes for all of us.”


Diversity is a key element at AUD campus, and the School of Education puts a great deal of emphasis on cultural dialogue. “Not only our students have different nationalities, but also different ethnicities. Due to definitions, we tend to make assumptions and put people in boxes,” she noted.  “In some classes, there are women who chose to wear Hijab, thus girls who aren’t covered in the classroom could have assumptions about the reasons why a woman does that. Therefore, cultural dialogue in the classroom breaks down barriers in order to rebuild an openness. I constantly tell my students that we must always keep our minds open so the light can come in, and our hearts open so the love can’t be shut off. Love is the best teacher. We need to lean into one another’s lives in order to work at understanding each other. It is not just tolerating each other, it is about coming to value what dissimilar people might bring to the conversation.”


In her message to both students and professionals at the end of our conversation, Dr. Catherine advised them to stay honest and authentic. “Honesty serves people in the business world, because temptations to borrow from someone else’s work are very high. I do believe in not re-inventing the wheel, but I strongly believe in the integrity of what we do because temptations will come our way.”


Goals of the School of Education, through the M.Ed. program, are to ensure that graduates:

  1. Develop professional ethics and collaborative skills required to meet the needs of diverse learners in 21st learning environment;
  2. Develop specific knowledge of the latest trends in teaching methodologies and in the use of instructional technology;
  3. Develop classroom-based problem-solving abilities aimed at advancing the academic achievement of all students;
  4. Develop professional dispositions along with the knowledge and skills needed to become highly qualified effective educators and life-long learners;
  5. Understand and use a variety of instructional strategies along with multiple methods of assessment to meet the needs of all learners in meaningful ways;
  6. Meet the generally accepted international standards for teacher preparation; and,
  7. Know how to conduct research and utilize current findings to guide and inform practice.



By Jenny Kassis, Executive Editor 



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