Recently, one of my friends and her family left Dubai and returned to the UK. They resettled quite quickly and their daughter and son had been accepted into a new school in no time. However, the daughter’s new Year 2 teacher told my friend that she thought she was ‘behind’ in her reading levels but that she felt confident that the little girl would catch up to her peers quickly. Of course, this left some lingering questions with the family as to whether the Dubai school had done enough to teach literacy properly.
This is a common concern that I’ve heard many parents express before of whether their children will be on-par with their peers back home once they leave Dubai. While there are several factors that come into play, parents certainly do need to keep abreast of their children’s progress while they’re abroad, especially around the time when they’re learning the foundational skills like reading and writing in the primary years.
The reason that reading is particularly critical is because it has the power to impact a child’s progress in every other subject area, not only right now but continuing on into the future as well. For example, “year 2 reading is actually one of the strongest predictors of a child’s reading comprehension in year 12 ” (Biemiller, 2001). This means that a child who is behind in their reading skills in year 2 will likely continue to struggle up to year 12 since their gaps only get wider. This is particularly true if they don’t receive the right intervention.
Reading slumps can impact achievement in other subject areas too since the students won’t be able to easily access books and reading materials at the expected levels for their age. This point illustrates just how important it is to have a strong education for your child, especially in the formative years.
So what should we as parents do to monitor our child’s progress?
While there may be no problem at all with your child’s progress and academic achievement, it’s always a good idea to learn where your child should be in regards to their age and year levels. Parents can use this equivalency chart below to help them check up on their child’s reading levels (and most schools will also use roughly similar charts and levels). The one below is from a school in the UK. You can compare your child’s current reading level right now to where they should be in relation to their age and year group back home. If you notice that your child is not yet close to the expected level for their year, then this can likely be a result of not enough reading being done at school.
To help combat this, students up to year 3 (at least) should ideally be getting a new leveled reading book a minimum of 4 times weekly if not everyday. I’ve seen situations where struggling children can read only one leveled reading book a week and this is a very likely reason that can explain why they are below the expected levels with their peers. Children need to read in order to be readers and so this is something you can easily monitor and discuss with the school if you feel it’s a concern for your child.
Most Dubai schools are now implementing some form of international ‘benchmarking’ assessments. These are standardised tests that tell the school where your child is at in relation to their age or year, against internationally recognised standards. So in most cases, schools in the UAE will be sharing this information with parents as well. This means you can see where your child is at and whether they are falling within the expected age or year-levels (usually in relation to literacy and maths). So if you are concerned about your child’s progress, you can always schedule a meeting with their teacher and ask them to give you more information about this.
What about the other subject areas?
In general, if your child’s school is following the curriculum, they will be addressing the required topics and themes for their year level. Again, this is something that parents can easily check on since all of the curriculum documents are easily accessible on the UK government website (https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/overview). Most schools in Dubai do follow the minimum requirements for curriculum, and ‘curriculum’ is one of the areas monitored by the KHDA when they come to do school inspections.
Keep in mind that independent schools and academies are not required to follow the National Curriculum so they may use an alternative curriculum or even an ‘enhanced’ curriculum. This can mean exposing the students to a faster-pace of learning or even additional subjects at school for example, but state or government schools will use the National Curriculum.
If your child attends a different educational system, like the IB or an American school for example, these schools will also use similar systems for reading and benchmarking so you can also compare their levels with UK levels as well if you need to. Once students are independent readers and have gained foundational mathematics skills, this is usually a good sign since most students who struggle academically start falling behind during early primary.
Keeping an eye on your child’s education is always a good thing to do, especially when you’re away from home. You want to ensure their learning is consistent and that they’re making continual progress in relation to where they would be if they were at home. Remember, if in doubt, do make sure you visit your child’s school and have this conversation with their teacher.
Francesca McGeary is an educational consultant and literacy specialist who has lived in Dubai for 13 years. She is the co-founder of Schools DXB and also runs a company called IngeniousEd.
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