GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Mind the (English) Gap Between High-School and University
Paper Proposal Text :
As evidenced by the very theme of this conference, institutions and providers of higher education in the GCC are increasing in number and bringing with them the question of whether a more educated workforce in the economy will improve the economic and political state of a country. One of the biggest issues that policy makers have been facing in the UAE has to do with bridging the gap between high-schooling and the expectations of “world-class universities” hoping to admit students meeting the entrance requirements. Both educators and policy makers are having to question what is actually learned in the schools as many students, especially within those graduating from public schools in the UAE, are not equipped with adequate English language skills to pass entrance exams and gateway exams such as IELTS and TOEFL. Most universities then are forced to implement an Academic Bridge Program (Zayed University), Intensive English Program (American University of Sharjah) or Foundations Course (Higher Colleges of Technology) where students take non-credit bearing courses to achieve expected levels of English communication and understanding to allow them to enroll and then attempt to complete Undergraduate Programs.

The essential problem with these pre-enrollment or pre-admission English programs is that, although they benefit the university by establishing familiarity and a sense of belonging for the students and ensuring long-term income, the economy suffers from delayed members of the workforce graduating with degrees. On the other hand, students who had managed to previously pass the gateways and complete their undergraduate degrees in the UAE were encouraged to gain further credentials such as Masters Degrees to be promoted or have salary increments at work, but again had to improve their English skills to be eligible for admission (namely by achieving a score of IELTS 6 or 7, or TOEFL equivalent). My study proposes interventions that would enable students to attain as much knowledge and ‘English’ as they could in the time between completing high school and preparing to join University, thereby avoiding lengthy delays in admission. In particular, I consider whether interventions based on the theory of Extensive Reading in the form of Classroom Presentations improve English Skills, particularly in Reading, in Native-Arab speaking students hoping to gain admission into Undergraduate or Post-graduate Programs in English.

This will contribute to the broader literature on education gaps in the GCC. As it stands to date, there seems to be some discrepancy in the reading levels of males and females in certain GCC countries (Shafiq, 2011), such as the UAE. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Emirati and other GCC male students underachieve in reading sections. In contrast, female students and other Arab male students performed on average on the reading sections. Although research has been done on the reasons behind these discrepancies, such as socio-cultural expectations, motivation and personal choice (Abu-Hilal , 2002) my research will focus specifically on how educators and institutions can rectify the gap by providing effective guidance and activities to improve the reading levels and academic knowledge and skills of under-achieving students who are motivated to enroll in university, as well as enhancing the reading skills and academic knowledge and skills of their averaging counterparts.

In my examination of the above question, I will present evidence from articles published across several disciplines such as economics, education, socio-culture and labor movement as well as my own empirical evidence. The following are some of the steps I have taken and shall be taking:

1. One of the effective methods for enhancing reading skills and the motivation to read and comprehend is the use of classroom Presentations. Although much research has been done in the past regarding the effectiveness, perception and usefulness of peer presentations (Girard, Pinar, Trapp, 2011), the use of reading and presenting material in order to convey knowledge that peers must use to complete a separate task, much like a relay of knowledge, is a technique I have found very successful. It is based on the research by George Jacobs and Thomas Farrell whereby students take more accountability in their work (2012). Using the analysis of reading assessments done when the students had begun their intensive 16 week program with me, combined with a step-by-step tutorial on how to prepare students for reading, comprehending and then presenting the material to their classmates, and subsequently analyzing whether the reading levels of the students had improved as a result of the presentations. A control group will be present in the form of students who chose not to participate in the Presentations.

2. Additionally, I will conduct research using a survey of randomly selected university students in several campuses. The questionnaire will include the following items:
A. Whether they feel they are able to cope with the university reading requirements as compared to their high-schooling requirements
B. Whether they have had to take additional English classes before embarking on their undergraduate courses,
C. How long these courses might have been
D. If there were any specific activities they remember that helped them to enjoy or retain the lessons better
E. Whether they felt the additional English classes better prepared them for University coursework
F. If they had not taken any additional courses, then did they feel they may have benefitted from additional English language or academic courses were made available to them
G. If they felt that their English skills in any way aided or impeded their performance in their Undergraduate studies.

I believe that the results of my own classroom activities combined with the reflection of students across Higher Education institutions in the country will shed more light on providing necessary support to students who are completing high-school in the UAE, surrounding GCC or Arab countries, and enable Higher Education institutions to more time-effectively prepare students for successful undergraduate studies in particular.


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