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Education system needs a qualitative leap: Abdullah bin Zayed

By Wam

The UAE is determined to revamp its education system to produce high-calibre young graduates who are well groomed for the age of AI and the next industrial revolution, according to H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Chairman of the Education and Human Resources Council.

Sheikh Abdullah made the remarks while addressing a session titled "how to make our educational system serve the future’s jobs" at the 6th World Government Summit, in presence of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

Sheikh Abdullah spoke of the need to develop science and technical degrees, identify pupils talented in computing at an early age and providing more opportunities for students to study PhDs.

His Highness pointed that the current direction of the Wise Leadership is to work on achieving a qualitative leap in this vital sector which enters in all the country’s strategic plans and in their forefront the "UAE Vision 2021" and its national agenda.

H.H. Sheikh Abdullah stressed during the session that the UAE achieved a great accomplishment in the education sector compared to its young age which exceeds four decades with a few years, compared to international countries and systems which were established centuries ago, saying there is a need to relinquish old moulds, and to encourage Emiratis to look away from government jobs and equip young people for the realities of the future.

He added that popular degrees like business management "won’t create a knowledge-based economy," and that "our children must realise they’re not only competing with each other but with students around the world too.

"We should reconsider our education system in a different and innovative manner and to break old moulds," he said, adding that there will be the need for flexible contracts where people will be able to work more than one job at a time.

"The country needs a new system of education that looks into the future, competitiveness and the country’s economic requirements. Educational institutes need to have new patterns to follow, that are constantly evolving and adaptable to the fast-paced changes around them.

Sheikh Abdullah added that a focus must be laid on critical thinking, and that the way in which some subjects are being taught at present will not groom young people for complex jobs.

"That means the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics won’t be sufficient at all," Sheikh Abdullah added.

Knowledge of technology, engineering and finance are far more important and human capital is the main factor in this revolution, he noted.

"Students are looking for degrees in economics and business management, but unfortunately, this won’t make an knowledge-based economy."

His Highness gave an example with the story of the High Jump champion Fosbury, which took place in 1968 only after two days of breaking the world record in the Long Jump in Mexico Olympics, and he clarified that the participants in the competition were used to a certain method for high jumping, and the champions were trained on this method until Fosbury came with a new way and he jumped with his back to the post, rejecting with that the traditional jump, and going in a different way from the rest of the competitors and with this jump, he broke the world record back then and exceeded all the conventional standards. That jump became the transformation point in Athletics at that time.

His Highness concluded the story by stressing that the UAE needs a similar jump in the education sector "A Jump which reevaluates completely the journey and traditional methods in education, and exceeds all the conventional standards, and changes the way that the students learn today, and also changes the future of the relation between education and the work market. And he said: "we need a jump the goal of which is to rise to untraditional prospects."

He also highlighted the need to move young people’s focus from government jobs to the private sector.

"Eighty percent of UAE citizens work in the public sector because they know these jobs give them stability," he said.

"We need to teach new skills, to be competitive in an open market. All parents need to inspire children to know and understand the challenges we have as we unfortunately have low rates in the local workforce compared to other countries."

Emiratis are also found to retire early compared to other countries, causing a burden on the UAE in long run, he said.

"We need to make educational programmes that are lifelong to teach them about the post-oil economy," he said.

"We have to teach our citizens to gain new skills, challenge ourselves and widen our horizons and not suffice with skills currently required in the job market that won’t equip us for the future market.

"We are now discussing an education system that will allow us to be competitive globally."

"But according to most indicators, UAE pupils in primary and secondary school are still performing less than in other countries," Sheikh Abdullah said.

"We want to narrow the gap between us and advanced counties – our children must know they’re not competing with each other only but with students around the world too."

The council’s survey also found that 39 per cent of respondents from the same survey expect their jobs to be in management in 10 years. More than 55 per cent think they will remain in same sector.

"This is not good," Sheikh Abdullah said.

"It’s insufficient so we will have partnerships with the private sector to have courses at the university level to increase the focus on new skills required on the private sector job market."

He told an audience of delegates and world leaders of a huge leap that will transform the way in which students are taught in schools and universities while adapting the private sector to those changes.

Although the UAE ranks first in school education systems in the Arab world, it is still behind other countries worldwide, ranking 45th.

"We are at a juncture so we are focusing our efforts on emphasising early childhood education," he said.

"We are studying a federal law to tackle the first six years of children’s education and we are working on a framework of standards for nurseries and pre-school.

"We, at the council, will also recognise students with the highest computing scores and set up a new national strategy to support changes in higher education to meet the requirements and targets of the UAE in both the private and public sectors."

The country will look to attract high-level scientists and experts to help raise the standard of teaching and research.

"This leap will change the way our children are being taught, their concepts, the teachers, schools and of the governments in the future as well as the relationship between education and employment," he said.

"This leap will go to heights never seen before. We have to keep diversifying the educational aspects of science, technology and mathematics so that people will be able to be equipped with more skills for the coming future."

He also said AI has a "huge role to play" in future education.

"Don’t forget that once upon a time, the pearl trade was the vein of our ancestors’ economy," he said.

"When that disappeared, the region went into social and economic crisis. So change is always a concern but it also provides opportunity. It is now the time for the next leap."

"Over the coming years, some jobs will disappear; however, new jobs will emerge and our options for life will vary and multiply. It’s quite important that we, as government and people, get geared for these changes. The Fourth Revolution is a great chance for us to prove that we are able to make life better, establish a renaissance and ensure happiness and hope. So I assure you that we, God Willing will spare no effort to accomplish that for the sake of creating a bright future for generations to come. We will contribute to creating the bright future that our father, late Sheikh Zayed, dreamt of and worked for seeing it come true," he concluded.

The session was attended by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, H.H. Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and The Future and Chairman of the World Government Summit.