English-Based Instructions in UAE K-12 Schools: Arguments For and Against

It is possible to argue that English as a language has become an international medium of communication. Its global nature directly indicates its power and influence on the societies, economies, policies, and cultures of the world. The power of language itself is hard to discuss, since the language and its use defines people’s cognitive way of processing and reflects on the speaker’s cultural and personal identity. It is especially relevant in the case of the youth in general and young school students in particular, because their identity and cognitive thinking are at the early stages of development. Current educational trends indicate that due to globalization English has been intensively penetrating the cultural domains of the top Arabic countries, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) being no exception. Many initiatives on adopting English as the main language of education have been presented in recent years. However, steps towards Americanization of the UAE’s young people have provoked urgent debate on whether replacement of native Arabic instructions by English ones would bring more benefits or drawbacks. Still, given the complexity and ambiguity of the problem, it is argued for replacement of Arabic by English in UAE K-12 schools will improve future qualification of students, contribute to their global socialization, streamline local economy, and enhance exchange of knowledge between diverse cultures.

Statement of the Problem and Purpose

The UAE has a complex history as a country, yet it is impossible to ignore decades of British rule before the state gained political independence and sovereignty. In the meantime, its current demographics, as well as a solid number of young talent, indicate that the country is passing through a fast shift in development of cultural identity. English language has become a vital part of people’s lives in a region, including the education sphere where more incidents of refusing Arabic instruction are reported (Hopkyns, 2014). The adoption of English in K-12 schools should provide UAE students with essential tools for improving their personal and professional lives in their native country and beyond it. However, it is also evident that support for the practice is unequivocal, causing certain concerns among patriotic citizens and conservative parents.

As a result, the UAE is dealing with a so-called dilemma of cultural identity, with the practice of innovation becoming a double-edged sword. Thus, this research essay is designed to actualize the benefits of replacing Arabic instruction by English analogs in UAE K-12 schools, discussing the consequences and opportunities for the local youth in a global sense. Furthermore, the problematic aspects of this practice are to be reviewed, emphasizing the loss of native cultural values and identity and social division of the UAE society. Ultimately, the purpose of the paper is to persuade the audience that the benefits of adopting English in UAE schools outweigh the negative effects.

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Arguments for Adoption of English in UAE Schools

Perspectives

English has achieved the status of a global and international language that influences multiple areas of life in different countries across the world. According to Seargeant and Swann (2012), “one in three of the world’s population are now capable of communicating to a useful level of English” (p. 155). This trend is rationalized by the popularity of English and its value of application in various fields of life, from jobs and businesses to leisure and tourism. The Western influence on the countries of the Gulf, including the UAE, has been essentially obvious in the recent years. Thus, it is quite logical that certain kinds of cultural transformation are taking place, re-shaping the ways of communication and thinking.

The adoption of English-based instruction in UAE K-12 schools instead of Arabic-based instruction is an advantageous process for practical purposes. Given the popularity and wide utilization of English on the international arena, it is evident that the integration of an English-based curriculum should become a valuable step towards preparing UAE students for future employment. It is not a secret that English competency is one of the most relevant factors in selecting candidates for a potential job (Bailey & Damerow, 2014). The current employment market, especially the international one, is more competitive than ever before. In a way, the UAE students that lack essential competency in English eventually lose chances of finding appropriate and well-paid job in the future.

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Qualification

At the end of the day, adoption of English in UAE K-12 schools is a question of students’ qualifications. Upon finishing K-12 schools, there is an indicative tendency, showing that more students from the UAE and other Arab countries prefer to continue their education abroad, specifically in the developed countries of the world, such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Canada (Al-Issa & Dahan, 2011). Education in prestigious universities of the West is a guarantee of a well-paid and reputable job, whether in a foreign or native employment market. However, it is quite obvious that students in the UAE that are less qualified and competent in English have minimal or zero opportunities for education abroad, because of gaps in cultural awareness and low communication skills (Hanani, 2009). In a certain sense, a refusal to adopt English in K-12 schools makes students less competitive and under-experienced in the context of future opportunities. Countries that integrate English-based instructions instead of native ones become more progressive and open for innovative changes (Hopkyns, 2014). The issue of progressive development is even more relevant for the UAE, as the country depends on foreign economies. Therefore, improving the qualifications of students in the UAE through integration of English in school is a progressive way of ensuring better life and future for the local youth.

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Global Socialization

It should be said that the UAE students who aim to go overseas may struggle with cultural adaptation and communication in a foreign setting if their English communication skills are not developed enough. Smooth and appropriate socialization in foreign societies is another argument for adopting English in UAE K-12 schools. English-based instruction is the optimal and easiest way to learn the basic and advanced aspects of English and Western communication. In the meantime, there is a direct correlation between well-developed English communication skills and improved cultural assimilation (Hopkyns, 2014). Moreover, given the global popularity of English, Arab students will be able to communicate with representatives of other cultures where English is a second language. It is especially important for young people who are involved in communication though the Internet and social media. In other words, English-based instruction in UAE K-12 schools will ensure fast-paced and efficient socialization of Arab students in the global multi-lingual environment.

Benefits for Local Economy

Aside from international perspectives, adoption of English-based instructions in UAE K-12 schools will lead to benefits for the local population. Evidently, the UAE is one of the most popular and attractive destinations in the Arabic region. Furthermore, it has the status of one of the most appealing countries for foreign investment due to relatively stable political and economic situation in the country (El Mallakh, 2014). Multiple students go abroad, but others stay in their homeland and occupy local positions, which are becoming more internationalized. Tourism is a vital element of the UAE economy and well-being. This requires adequate and professional communication with foreigners from all over the world (Hopkyns, 2014). In the meantime, English is applied in non-tourist areas of the UAE, which include science (joint and international research projects), healthcare (global and innovative solutions in cooperation with leading medical specialists of the world), oil refinery (supply and distribution of oil resources to foreign markets), and many others (El Mallakh, 2014). All these elements improve the economy of the UAE, and young students with English competency will become highly valuable assets and occupy these reliable jobs and leadership positions.

Cultural Exchange and Diversity

Finally, it is evident that the involvement of English-based instructions in UAE schools will expand cultural and personal awareness of students by giving them an opportunity to exchange and share their knowledge with other foreign cultures. Transferability of cultural knowledge often contributes to cultural diversity. This phenomenon favorably impacts interactions and relationships between individuals, groups, communities, and even political states (Braeder-Kuhner, C., & Muller, 2015). In the meantime, sharing positive cultural knowledge through the universal channels of English communication will help to reshape or change the negative stereotypes about Arab people that prevail in the light of current political events. This mission is informally assigned to the young generations, but the task will not be completed without intense emphasis on English competencies at the school level in the UAE.

Counter Arguments

Loss of National Identity

Despite the obvious benefits of adopting English-based instruction and curriculum in UAE K-12 schools, there are certain social concerns that must be taken into account while examining this controversial topic. Thus, one of the leading disadvantages of adopting English-based instructions in the UAE schools is the dissolution of native Arabic values and cultural identity. Some policy-makers, teachers, and parents are highly concerned by the growing dominant status of English in Arabic culture, because the popularity of English weakens children’s interest in their native language. It is not a coincidence that many UAE students, especially in early classes, tend to forget their native language, with their thinking influenced by English expressions and words (Alvarez et al., 2016). Conservative parents are concerned by this fact, because there is an assumption that English-based thinking would deprive young Arabs of their inherent cultural identity. This may be partially true, yet bilingual and multilingual models of education are prevalent across the world without putting national identities of students at risk. For example, students from prestigious universities of the UK, such as University of Leeds, Durham University, and Cambridge, have already adopted Arabic language courses with foreign instruction (Scott-Baumann & Cheruvallil-Contractor, 2015). Thus, the worry about adopting English in Arabic schools is pointless.

Division of the UAE Society

In addition, many assume that English-based instruction and English competency in general will provoke a division of the UAE society. It can be argued that English language transforms into the language of the elite (Lindsey, 2015). While there is an elite language, the other language, which is Arabic, becomes second-rate and underestimated. Moreover, there are factors indicating that payment for English and Arabic classes is considerably different, with the latter being much more expensive (Al Kuttab, 2017). In fact, the UAE population is divided into the proponents of English and Arabic conservators, as well as into fans of modernity and ideologists of patriotic authenticity.

Conclusion

Overall, it may be argued that replacing Arabic instruction by English in UAE K-12 schools has multiple benefits for the country. The advantageous aspects include the improvement of students’ qualification, progress of their global socialization, growth of local economy, and better exchange and sharing of cultural knowledge. On the other hand, the problems of lost national identity and division of society are identified as the potentially negative effects of this initiative. Nevertheless, the adoption of English-based instructions in the schools of the UAE provides greater opportunities for building one’s own future. Moreover, most of the aforementioned risks can be overcome and managed in time.

 

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