A situational analysis was conducted within the context of a British curriculum school in Dubai, leading to the realization that various student objectives were unmet following the student exposure to the school’s curriculum. As the core of the situational analysis, a curriculum development goal was formed as follows:
To enhance the level of writing intervention in the curriculum to meet the needs of attainment among Emirati students by the end of FS2.
The goal was stated following observations made on the students during the actual needs assessment and the comments provided by the teachers. The goals of both the Emirati government and the school are centered on ensuring that most Emirati students perform better or equal to students of other nationalities in English language since they are local nationals and thus form a higher percentage of the available workforce. Similarly, it is the objective of the government to ensure that more than 62% of the Emirati students are good at school.
The choice of the above stated goal as the focus of this situational analysis is founded on a comparison of the national and school goals, and the outcomes of the observation study conducted, through which teachers confirmed that a large number of Emirati language learners showed a low attainment level after Foundation Stage 2 (FS2). Moreover, additional research has shown that instructional language understanding is instrumental in overall academic effectiveness. The English language is used extensively in the studied school as the instructional language, and if students show a low attainment in it, they are also likely to show a generally low academic attainment due to the dependence of academic success on the comprehension of the instructional language.
The objective of this situational analysis (SA) is to establish strategies that may be beneficial towards curriculum development, where the goal is to improve the attainment of Emirati students in English language learning through writing interventions. The SA will explore, based on the observations already made in the school context as well as further readings, the factors that influence the outcomes of learners in English language education. Some of these factors have already been mentioned during the needs assessment, although from the teachers’ perspectives. It will be important for this SA to consider the factors from the student and parent perspectives and to conclusively determine the best strategic approaches to improving the English language attainment of Emirati learners. From the findings, recommendations will be given for developing an effective curriculum that will incorporate writing interventions for Emirati English learners to improve their attainment.
The needs assessment was conducted in a school in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, focusing on teaching the British Curriculum. The school uses the national curriculum of England in primary education and the Early Years Foundation Stage framework for the foundational stages 1 and 2. The instructions are mostly issued in English, and most of the students understand at least basic English. The number of Emirati students in the school has been increasing, reaching approximately 20% of the overall student body. 30% of the Emirati students in the school are in FS2, and understanding the instructional language has become extremely important. The needs assessment was thus conducted by focusing on the level of attainment of the students in FS2, through the combination of teacher, and coordinator reports with student observations. The assessment was conducted in various stages, using surveys and observation techniques while focusing on different participants.
The core of the needs assessment was a review of learning review data collected over the year 2018/2019. This data was available from the head of department as well as the teachers. The objective of using this data was to determine whether there were possible trends and to establish key actions that could be followed to ensure proper attainment at FS2 level. Unstructured questions were also used in some of the sessions, which gave the opportunity for analyzing the rationale behind the low attainment levels for students in FS2. While the method was appropriate for collecting the desired data that could be used in decision making regarding the appropriateness of the instructional methods and the need for further intervention, the number of students from whom the data was collected by the head of department and the different teachers is still unclear.
The SA process adopted took into consideration some factors that have been previously reported as influencing the educational outcomes of students learning English. A study by Akareem and Hossain (2016), showed that the objective of adopting an SA based approach to curriculum development is to enable the identification of student needs and subsequently set effective curricular for addressing those needs. Kaur (2018) posits that one of the reasons behind poor educational outcomes particularly in higher education environments is that institutions lack an understanding of the effective curriculum development process. Accordingly, this SA takes into consideration factors categorized as institutional and personal factors. Institutional factors include factors such as teachers, learning resources, and curriculum awareness/content. On the other hand, the personal factors may include aspects such as individual capabilities, parental responsibility and socioeconomic backgrounds of the students.
Institutional Factors – Teachers
Teachers are one of the biggest determinants of instructional effectiveness. Many studies have been conducted to determine the influence of various factors on the effectiveness and efficiency of dissemination of knowledge by teachers. Factors such as teacher training, content and curricular alignment, which influence the effectiveness of knowledge dissemination, also influence the attainment by students (Blazar and Kraft 2017). In a multicultural environment in particular, teachers may face the challenge of handling students who learn English as a second language (ESL). Even in circumstances where the learners are all ESL, the diversity of cultural predispositions can make it difficult for one teacher to have the same impact on students from all the diverse backgrounds. This therefore means that before making the decision on why the Emirati students at the FS2 level considered in this study did not reach the expected level of academic attainment, it would be necessary to determine whether the students are performing effectively in other subjects or not. If the student performance is consistent across all subjects, then it is certain that the teacher of English cannot be considered as the reason for the non-attainment of the academic goals in English learning by students.
Institutional Factors – Learning Resources
The other reason that could potentially affect the attainment of learning objectives is the lack of resources for teaching that particular content. According to Heck (2009), it may be possible that the curriculum is right and the teachers are effective at disseminating knowledge and also have the linguistic prowess required to teach multicultural learners, but the learning resources are ineffective or inadequate. For the school under consideration, it is unclear what learning resources are used in English language teaching, which makes it difficult to determine the effectiveness or adequacy of those resources for the particular lessons that the students are to be taken through. Once it has been confirmed that the learning resources available are aligned to those required by the curriculum, it can be deduced that they are adequate, and thus other factors are considered for evaluation.
Institutional Factors – Curriculum
The curriculum may also affect the attainment of learning objectives for the Emirati students of English by the end of FS2. The fact that most of the students in that class fail to attain their academic goals may be considered as an indication of the need to refine the curriculum to be more accommodative. The present version of the curriculum may not have taken into consideration the differences in student backgrounds and entry level qualifications, or even the class diversity as a factor that determines student performance in the English language class.
Individual Factors – Personal Capabilities
From the data collected during the needs assessment, it is clear that Emirati students had probably different personal capabilities even during admission compared to other students. The teachers reported that they had lower levels of attainment during entry, which could have slowed their capacity to learn as they were slightly less qualified for the level compared to other students. In such conditions, when the students are subjected to inclusive learning, they are likely to have lower levels of comprehension. They would therefore require a form of bridging in order to bring them at par with other students before learning progress as that would be the only way to get them to have a higher level of attainment.
Individual Factors – Parental support
The teachers also reported that lack of adequate parental report particularly on writing practice could also be blamed for the poor attainment by Emirati students. This implies that relative to other students, the Emirati students had lower parental support levels particularly in English learning and writing; this could be attributed to the consideration of their parents also as ESL speakers, which may hinder their capability to assist students as much as the other parents are doing. If this seems to be a major factor in the non-attainment of Emirati students at FS2, then the intervention to be put in place should take consideration of this difference between students, to provide an approach that does not make parental support mandatory for student success.
Individual Factors – Student Backgrounds
A study by El-Omari (2016) classified student background into social, cultural and economic, and reported the student background as a potential determinant of the attainment of students learning English. The socioeconomic background is reported to affect many aspects of a student’s life including access to learning resources, food, even assistance at home. Students from relatively poor socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to perform poorer as a result of the different constraints faced in their academic life. The social background of students can be represented by factors such as family structure, which has been reported to affect child performance. The chart below shows the effects of social factors on student performance, particularly in English and Maths. Similarly, the cultural backgrounds of students are also reported to affect their level of attainment due to variety of communication methods, comprehension language and even the general predisposition to learn. Teachers have to learn to teach in a culturally diverse environment; hence they have to be culturally sensitive. In this way, they can better disseminate knowledge to students not only for those learning English but for learners in general.
Figure 1: The effects of family structure (social life) on student performance. Source: Fagan (undated).
For this SA, a qualitative approach to research was adopted. In particular, data collected during the needs assessment on the responses of the teachers and the coordinator was considered suitable for this particular phase of the SA. The data comprised of previous attainment reports for students in the foundational stages of study, as well as the results of the previous interviews conducted on teachers’ perceptions about the reasons for the non-attainment of students. The qualitative methodology was considered effective for this particular SA due to the argument that it is suitable for collecting data that is objective, and which gives a true reflection of the perceptions of the participants in a study (Creswell, 2013). Besides attempting to find a strategy for developing an intervention that would be useful for English language learners in the school, the SA needs to understand the reason for the low attainment so that the intervention selected would suit the needs of the school. The data collected based on teacher and coordinator perspectives regarding the reason behind the low attainment of students in FS2 has been considered effective for this process since it is assumed to be non-biased as it was given without any communication of the intention to propose an intervention for the students.
While the data collected provides pretty good information that can be used to give good recommendations for consideration when developing an intervention for writing support for the Emirati students learning English in the Dubai school, this study is considered limited in certain aspects. First, the quantity of data used is limited, in that it was collected from a few teachers and from one single school. The limitations in data quantity could be addressed in future SAs by expanding the scope of the study and not confining the research to FS2. Furthermore, the student perspectives of what limits their attainment of academic goals has not been taken into consideration. This implies that the results presented may be biased as they only give one side of the argument.
Findings and Recommendations
From the study findings, the most probable causes of low attainment among the Emirati students is the lack of support from parents in English writing. However, parents may not be compelled to provide additional support to their children particularly given that they may not even be effective in disseminating that knowledge given that they are also probably ESL speakers. From this finding, it is recommended that an intervention be developed for working with a multicultural classroom, and with room for additional support to individual students. A curriculum that requires more than one teacher at a time in teaching foundation stage English can help to monitor the individual development of the students and thus provide the additional support they may need in order to attain their academic goals. This approach has been discussed extensively by Blazar and Kraft (2017), to ensure that teachers and parents given enough time for the students to report their challenges and to be assisted with them. It could work well with the Emirati students given that it seems that this need for support is only among them.
The SA conducted has yielded the view that the Emirati students in FS2, may be missing out their academic attainment as a result of lack of parental support and that an intervention should be developed to cater for this need. A modification of the curriculum to require additional teachers during English lessons in the foundational stage classes has been proposed, as it is deemed suitable for knowledge sharing and student support during English lessons.
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