The UAE’s Vision 2021 project aims to address a number of key issues across its federation of emirates. This strategy aims to promote a “nurturing and sustainable environment” for all citizens, and to prepare them for the modern world. A critical part of this is centred around the “First-Rate Education” scheme, which is dramatically reforming education from its curriculum to professional development, with over a fifth of the federal budget being allocated to the education sector.
There has also been a renewed focus in the teaching of practical competencies and critical thinking, as well as the development of high-standard examinations. The curriculum now seeks to provide equality of opportunity in order to reduce the school drop-out rate and encourage more young people into higher education.
There are several key goals that have acted as a driving force in systemic change across the UAE: the improvement of the Emirates’ TIMMS and PISA rankings; enhancing students’ proficiency in the Arabic language; ensuring quality in teaching and school leadership; and increasing enrolment in early years’ education.
One of the most prominent elements of this educational development comes in the form of encouraging economic growth, predominantly through technology and science, inspiring young people to learn digital skills that will prepare them for the world of work and the future ahead of them.
“Our economic growth depends on investing in education to build a knowledge-based society, and we have made massive strides for the children, women and men of the UAE.” – Minister for Education, H.E Hussain Al Hammadi
The economic strand of educational development looks at strengthening the UAE’s economy through 21st Century skills. Innovation has become an integral part of the curriculum, and in society as a whole. 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. In line with this trend, the UAE’s investment in ICT and education technology rose to over $15 billion (£12 billion) in 2014, and several nationwide initiatives have brought innovation to the forefront in teaching and learning.
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.
Another part of this initiative feeds into Arabic representation in technology. 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.
Children and young people between the ages of 15 and 35 are the main target for the UAE’s innovation strategy, which aims to guide and inspire young people as entrepreneurs, helping them to take advantage of the technology at their disposal and to take risks as part of the digital revolution. The UAE wants to get 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.
Since the start of the Vision 2021 programme, education in the UAE has taken big steps towards creating a more innovative future for Emirati citizens, 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.