10,000 Dubai school students complete wellbeing census
More student representation, an increase in activities outside the classroom and less expensive food in school canteens. That was the feedback given by some of the 10,000 students across Dubai's private schools who have completed the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's (KHDA) Wellbeing Census.
With another 60,000 students due to complete the questionnaire by early next month, parents could soon be able to find out just how happy their children are here. And for schools, it's a chance for them to find out just what their students need to be even happier.
In February, the KHDA first announced plans to roll out the carefully crafted census. On November 5, the first batch of students from Grades 6 to 9 sat down to fill out the 30-minute online form, comprising around 70 questions.
So far, 10,000 students in 35 schools have submitted their feedback. By December 7, all 70,000 students across 166 schools will have completed the forms.
The aim of the census is to find out how children are coping in schools here, and the results will be analysed by the KHDA and shared with schools in early February.
Wellbeing Census - sample questions:
I have more good times than bad times
I start most days thinking I will have a good day
I am happy with my life
I worry a lot about the mistakes I make
I worry about things
Speaking at the Swiss International Scientific School (SISD) on Monday, Dr Abdulla Karam, Director-General of the KHDA, said although the data collected from each school "will not be made public by the KHDA", it is up to each individual school to share their results with parents.
"This census is not about rewarding or penalising schools based on the individual outcome. We want the schools to use the data for evidence-based learning. As a government entity, we will collect the data and use it to make a report, which will then be fed back to the schools."
The census will be a separate tool from the Dubai schools inspections, meaning the data will not count towards school ratings, however, Dr Karam said the two will be connected, eventually.
"We hope to prove that correlation the sooner the better. The way the two will be connected is by looking at how schools will be using the data to improve the wellbeing of students."
Beat Sommer, principal at SISD (where 150 students have already completed the Census), said he can't see a reason why they won't make the results public to parents.
"I would say this is something to be shared. We have to be open and transparent with parents. The school inspection results are shared, so this should be too. We are not at all resistant to that idea."
Speaking about the feeback so far, Dr Karam said it has been very positive.
"Happiness is a serious business for us. My message is clear. Talk about wellbeing; the more you talk the happier people will be. What has been very rewarding so far is seeing the kids' willingness to engage in the Census."
The KHDA is working together with the Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) in South Australia on the comprehensive project.
The new student census will be distributed once a year and will continue over a five-year period.
Paul Seefeld, Grade 8
"I think it is really great that the government is taking a serious interest in student wellbeing. Some of the questions allowed us to voice our opinions on what made us happy and unhappy in school, and we were able to give out opinions on what could be done to improve happiness. For me, I'm really happy in school and I think that is down to the teachers."
Benoît Lefebvre du Prey, Grade 8
"I was curious to see what kind of questions the census would ask and now it will be interesting to see how the school will use the student feedback. It took me about 25 minutes to complete the form. I would say I am most happy in my Art and Individual & Society classes, but I would like to improve in English. I think communication is my biggest challenge in that class so I need help improving my listening skills so I can understand the lesson more."
Maryam Al Qassim, Year 8
"I like that this census asks questions about how you feel at home and at school. I liked the questions about how people treat you in school and also the ones about your perceptions on learning in the classroom environment. I think they were helpful to let me express myself. I'm really happy in Art and PE as they are active classes, and I think I could improve in Science and Math. I think the census will be good for inclusion, it will make people feel more valued in the school."
There's more to schooling than just academics and grades. KHDA's latest initiative could give educational institutions rare insights into what students think of the overall experience. Such information is highly valuable. Schools could benefit and evolve as stronger educational institutions - one that not only lay stress on academic performances but on the overall happiness quotient of the students and allow them to realise their true potential.