The third in a series of conversations on Advancing Arabic Language Teaching and Learning explored the preparation and development of Arabic language teachers. Consideration was given to issues such as the selection of teachers, initial teacher education, and continuous professional development of teachers.
This note summarizes the key points and recommendations on these topics from the World Bank’s report on Advancing Arabic Language Teaching Learning: A Path to Reducing Learning Poverty in MENA.
- The most effective interventions to improve student learning rely on teachers; a successful teacher can make a major difference to a student’s learning trajectory. Effective teacher policies rely on principles such as:
- Making teaching an attractive and highly regarded profession
- Ensuring initial teacher education has a significant practical component
- Recognizing, promoting, and rewarding effective teachers
- Adopting a meritocratic hiring system
- Providing continuous support and motivation in the form of high-quality in-service training and coaching, including to effectively manage classrooms with students at varied learning levels
- Applying strong education and school leadership to achieve the above.
- There are very few teacher training colleges or university faculties of education that specialize in Arabic language pedagogical studies or that include modules on Arabic early literacy skills teaching and learning across the MENA region. This results in many teachers being unprepared to effectively teach Arabic reading and writing, as shown in the results of national and international student literacy assessments. In many cases, Arabic language teachers do not have sufficient mastery of the language itself. In addition, teachers of other subjects often lack the training and confidence to use MSA as a medium of instruction or do not see it as part of their role. Teacher preparation programs may need to:
- Emphasize to all teacher candidates that every teacher is a teacher of reading. The language needs of each subject should be identified, and teachers trained to recognize and support children’s reading development in their subject.
- Address the remedial needs of teachers so that their graduates feel confident in using the language in the classroom.
- Education policies that promote early exposure to MSA would support the transition to MSA and the overall learning of the Arabic language.
- Assessments of the subskills related to children’s reading development help to determine individual progress and identify children requiring additional support. In addition, when aggregated and analysed, assessment results can help policymakers, planners, and teacher educators to determine teacher professional development and curriculum reform needs.
- For practicing teachers, in-service professional development courses have generally not focused on building teachers’ understanding of the evidence-based practices related to teaching and learning any language, and the effective practices specific to the Arabic language. There is a need for greater attention to scale up teacher education and mentoring and make it more targeted to the needs of students in learning Arabic.
- Overall, there is a fundamental love of the Arabic language among young people, but the way it is taught has led to disengagement with the language and the feeling that it is a difficult language, dominated by form and grammar. Arabic teachers tend to (a) focus on grammar and accuracy instead of playfulness and inquiry; and (b) overly correct children as they learn to read and write. This differs from children’s experiences in high-performing education systems where engagement with stories is emphasized, playing with language is encouraged, and grammar and accuracy are taught but not so rigidly that it inhibits young children’s engagement and motivation.
- Scripted lessons and other teacher guides and materials that scaffold teaching, as part of a well-designed curriculum and package of resources for Arabic language education in the early grades, may be helpful ways to show teachers how to move to more effective methodologies.
- Set detailed standards for reading progression based on the science of learning to read, with teacher guides and professional development (to scaffold teaching).
- Focus initially on the early grades of formal schooling
- Enhance comprehension skills through direct and explicit instructional strategies (for example, daily reading aloud of children’s literature in class, and secure more freedom to use “less formal” MSA words.
- To help teachers “check for understanding” daily, build activities into lesson plans, determine student understanding of new concepts, and apply early grade reading assessments periodically.
- Teachers should be encouraged to teach in a way that engages children’s interests and prior knowledge and not in rigid ways that make children afraid of making mistakes. In addition, teachers should be trained to use opportunities to link children’s learning with their background knowledge by highlighting words that overlap between MSA and their dialect, and by looking for patterns in parts of words and morphological awareness which is key to understanding how the Arabic language works.
- Revisit Arabic language teacher education programs (pre-service) and teacher professional development programs (in-service) to:
- Add Arabic language pedagogy studies, extensive practical experience with students (including child-initiated dialogue, as an effective teaching method), and effective planning for student learning.
- Improve teachers’ understanding of the principles of teaching the Arabic language and effective methods of teaching, and their ability to implement these methods, including phonics methods, plus their skills in managing and planning for learning, including explicit strategies for supporting low performers/ struggling children.
- For pre-service teacher education:
- Include specific studies on language development and methods for teaching Arabic, from the early years to the more advanced levels, such as courses on phonics, early literacy, and children’s literature.
- Develop a cadre of well-prepared Arabic language teachers who can move from rigid, ineffective approaches to the teaching of Arabic grammar to more effective strategies that foster higher order thinking skills. This will have a knock-on effect in other subjects, moving beyond memorization and rote learning to problem-solving and more advanced thinking and reasoning.
- For in-service professional development, develop and improve the training, as well as the guidance materials and sample lessons to accompany the training, based on the evidence on effective teaching and learning of Arabic. A sustainable strategy for teacher professional development would include coaching, mentoring, and sharing practice including establishing communities of practice.