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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to analyse the macro‐factors and contextual variables surrounding the recent introduction of compulsory bilingual schooling in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, in order to generate informed discussion, and in order for stakeholders to understand the sociocultural, linguistic and pedagogical issues involved. Design/methodology/approach – This paper is an analytic one which examines language‐in‐education in Abu Dhabi through a framework of the operational, situational and outcomes factors involved in bilingual education, as identified by Spolsky et al. and Beardsmore. Insights gained from international empirical research into bilingual education are applied to the Abu Dhabi context, and key questions about the specific model of bilingual education selected are posed for future local research to answer. Findings – The paper concludes that bilingual education is likely to confer linguistic, academic and socioeconomic benefits on future generations of Emirati school leavers. However, the acquisition of biliteracy is likely to be challenging because of the diglossic features of Arabic, as well as the linguistic distance between Arabic and English. Because of the ambiguity of international research findings with regard to the appropriate age to begin second language learning, as well as uncertainty about the merits of simultaneous versus sequential teaching of biliteracy, research must be undertaken in Abu Dhabi schools into the effects of bilingual education under conditions of early Arabic/English immersion. Originality/value – This paper is timely given the recent announcement of compulsory and universal bilingual state schooling from an early age in Abu Dhabi, and necessary given the dearth of discussion and research on language‐in‐education matters in the Arab world. While the paper is contextualised within the school system of Abu Dhabi, it has resonance for adjacent Gulf States and for the many expatriates from across the Middle East who teach and study in Abu Dhabi's schools.
Education, Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues – Emerald Publishing
Published: Mar 1, 2011
Keywords: United Arab Emirates; Schools; Language; Teaching methods
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