Last year, the UAE allocated 21.2 per cent of its federal budget to the education sector, with a view to improving training for teachers, revolutionising the curriculum, and developing new learning programmes. As part of this, there were several key goals, including the improvement of the Emirates’ TIMSS and PISA rankings, increasing enrolment in the early years, enhancing students’ skills in Arabic and ensuring quality in teaching and leadership.
The UAE seeks to reach these goals by focusing on two major strands of development: cultural and economic.
The cultural strand of development works to encourage a sense of national identity in young people, while encouraging them to be part of a diverse and multicultural society. 28th November each year marks UAE National Day, where pupils are encouraged to celebrate their UAE heritage through performances, songs, and national costume. At the same time, schools are also celebrating internationalism. For example, Nibras International School in Dubai has had an ‘International Day’ since 2005; with 17 separate nationalities making up the student populace, they teach each other languages and explain elements of their own cultures. Through this, the UAE intends to promote tolerance, encourage national pride and tackle extremism.
While it has been reported that there are 450 million Arabic speakers in the world, very little online content is presented in the language (at around three per cent). Part of the innovation strategy is to encourage Arabic-speaking students to shift this balance to be more representative.
In terms of economic growth, the UAE has fostered a dedication to encouraging 21st Century skills, with the aim of promoting innovation in the curriculum, and this is evident in the emirates’ investment into ICT hitting $15 billion in 2014. As with many other nations, the UAE has shown a great emphasis towards Science, technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), especially with many employers in the emirates rating technological skills as the most important for the UAE’s rapidly changing industries. There are a number of projects involved in this, including the establishment of 122 Innovation Libraries in schools across the UAE, which provide an environment through which students can develop their skills using technology. While the main source of information in these libraries will still be books, the children will also be given the opportunity to experiment with various digital media and communication resources, preparing them for the world of the future.
One of the crucial elements of this strategy is getting companies, universities and schools working together to foster creative thinking towards business, technology, and national development. A great deal of investment has been allocated through the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy to boost the amount of scientific research and entrepreneurial activities in businesses, and partnerships between companies and educational institutions have been encouraged to establish expertise in unique areas.
The first UAE Innovation Week was launched in 2015, encompassing hundreds of events. Such events included workshops and conferences, hackathons and competitions to encourage young people to think creatively and become problem solvers. Following the success of 2016’s Innovation Week, where 1,250 creative thinking events were held across the UAE, it was decided that February 2018 would become Innovation Month, to encourage more schools, businesses and individuals to consider the prospects of innovation, as well as attracting more international interest in the celebrations.
Young people between the ages of 15 and 35 are the main target for the UAE’s innovation strategy. The Emirates Foundation looks to guide, inspire and empower young people as entrepreneurs, eager to take advantage of the technology at their disposal and to take risks as part of the digital revolution. However, there is still more that can be done to provide the ideal landscape for young people to get involved with entrepreneurship and starting their own businesses.
Education in the UAE has taken big steps towards creating a more innovative future for Emirati citizens in the last six years since the start of the Vision 2021 programme, and the next four years are set to see even more changes and opportunities both nationally and internationally. As one of the fastest improving nations worldwide, the UAE should be a focal point in education as we move into the future.
Visit www.vision2021.ae/en for more information.