February 21, 2019
If your grandmother gives you a sweater you don’t like, what should you do? Students in the UAE will soon be asked to identify the “right” answer to the conundrum, as the country becomes the first in the world to administer a standardized test evaluating children’s moral judgment.
The UAE piloted its Moral Education Program in 2016, out of concern that young people in the UAE are confronted with “interferences from all over the world” which disrupt the Emirati moral compass. A year later, the government expanded the program, making it compulsory for all students from grades one to twelve. Over a million pupils now study topics ranging from ethics to civics to Emirati culture. While the course does not explicitly teach theology, it includes material on Islamic culture and Islamic finance, in addition to the importance of tolerating other traditions.
To assess the program’s effectiveness, the UAE has worked with the developers of the U.S.-based ACT college entrance exam to develop a 45-minute computer-based test. This year, 10,000 students from 70 public and private schools will take the first exam, which will ask multiple-choice, scenario-based questions. According to the developers, each test question will have one fully correct answer, one partially correct answer, and two incorrect answers.
Scores will reportedly be used to compare schools and instructors and fine-tune the curriculum. Teachers, many of whom are expatriates, privately worry whether they are equipped to shape Emirati students into a narrow moral and cultural mold. Even more pointedly, they wonder if it is even possible to create a unified moral standard, let alone measure it.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.