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Education and the requirements of the economy

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Mohammad Fadhel Al Obaidly

Advisor, Public Opinion Research Center

Tag: United Arab Emirates
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Governments are taking an increasing interest in linking primary and higher education to the requirements of the economy, and it is an interest increasingly expressed by countless approaches globally.
Needless to say, this linkage is represented notably in the challenge for universities, especially in Western countries and raise the question again about any definition of the role to be played by the universities themselves, and whether it should remain within its old traditional role as academic institutions for scientific research to graduate battalions of learners in various fields, or whether to meet the growing needs of economic growth and thus redefine its role?
There are various approaches across the world on the connection between education and the requirements of the economy, some of them focus on this link to solve the urgent problems, such as the arrival of unemployment to critical levels and the other focused on preparing students to meet the needs of specific economic sectors the economic planners in a country or another rely on to promote economic growth. But how many or however these approaches, and whatever the extent of their time or scope and the constituencies, they are all focused on" skills development.
What are the required skills?
Education experts divide these skills into three types:" basic skills ", which include reading and writing skills, problem solving and arithmetic, and "transferable skills" which includes problem analysis and problem solving, effective communication, creativity,  a display of leadership spirit, diligence and entrepreneurship, and finally the technical and professional skills that includes a range of skills related primarily to the ability of operating machines or computers and tools [1].
Most approaches in education development focus on the development of transferable skills, as a much-needed skills to a new type of economy that become more dependent on the skills than the labour intensity. But surely there is no room for preferences between these three skills because they are closely connected to each other. The deterioration of  basic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic and problem solving) will not be compensated by additional  higher training on skills  that can be acquired  in the working environment outside of school, but the perquisites of  this training would primarily  require the need to be conversant on the basic skills. These skills seem in a pyramidal order that its base consist of basic skills acquired through traditional general education.
Although the issue looks simple, studies show that even in rich countries with a good level of education, there is a significant proportion of  failure among students ( 28% for example in Canada) in solving math problems and deterioration in the ability to understand as a result of their low reading capabilities. In this context we can consider the deterioration of the Arabic language in UAE and other Arab countries as an impact of low level of basic skills, and there will be no argument that this caused by the weakness inherent in the methods of teaching Arabic, except for the prevailing general culture effects.
With the growing urgency to develop education and bridge it to the requirements of economic growth, the debate is primarily about the best ways to develop the skills within the curricula. The prevailing perception is that some of the skills are acquired outside the school environment, and the interpretations differ in the means by which to manage an effective process to acquire such skills. There are always calls to include the skills within the curricula, but this will fail to attain the desired goal as long as it does not exceed the inclusion of some additional textbooks within the curricula, while the perfect place to acquire these skills may be out of school.
Here, the other methods, such as the possibilities that can be provided by "volunteer work" for example, to develop the skills required, especially those related to the skills of analysis and fostering a spirit of innovation, leadership, diligence and ability to organize. These kind of skills cannot be gained through textbooks as much as it needs to be acquired through practical experience. However the effectiveness of volunteer work is also subject to the educators vision, first on how possible it can go beyond the concept of recreation to an effective and practical educational way to gain the skills. This requires, above all not to reconsider the volunteer work, but to evaluate it correctly as an educational and learning method which requires accurately linking it to the educational trend so it can measure its efficiency in a scientific manner. Exceeding specific numbers of hours in volunteer work or vocational training in the company of students of technical schools will not be enough, of course, but the measure of evolution in the capabilities of the students who are involved in this voluntary work or vocational training will enable to judge whether students have acquired any skills from such activities.
It will also be important that business owners and recruiting managers change their standards to evaluate job applicants when it comes to those who have experience in volunteer work or community service. The simplest change here is to evaluate the additional skills acquired by young men and women who practiced voluntary work. This will not be possible as long as the majority of educators and investors impression about volunteer work remains as a means of passing time. 
But volunteer work is one of the various methods to develop the educational skills, and there is also an important role for the private sector to play. The role is not limited to financing special programs to acquire the skills, but it will exceed it to a true partnership and a long term relationship with the government in this regard, especially in a country like the United Arab Emirates which allocates a significant part of the budget towards public and higher education [2]. The figures of spending on education reveals the hopes placed on education to meet the requirements of growth, which is expressed best in the plans put forward by the government and many state leaders to develop education. The initiatives put forward for the development of education in the UAE, and over the past few years, up to December 2013 with the launch of a public brainstorming initiative on education and health, and the cabinet cell that followed, there have been several formal ideas and initiatives [3] for the development of education that reflects the ambitions of the government, economic planners, the intellectual elite of business men and citizens to the development of education.
There are several approaches world wide. For example, the development of students analytical skills has been applied in some countries such as Russia (since the Soviet era) and Germany with the incorporation of universal mind games, especially chess, into the curriculum. In the eighties of the last century, chess was introduced in Bahrain by the same approach that came with the comprehensive plans for developing education. However the objections from some parents who raised a stir almost resembled something like a religious edict on the sanctity of the game of chess. The abolition of chess for fear of non-contentious interaction is unfortunate and unwarranted hype, and did not take into account educational value of one of the most important games in the world.
This highlights the importance of the cultural factor in the development of skills and education in general. In this regard, the importance of culture can be demonstrated in the approach to teaching based on manual labour with the aim of developing skills such as "precision" and quality. For example, embroidery may be perceived as a skill for women and girls, but there is no doubt that the practice develops and nurtures the skill of precision. However it will not be accepted as such when it comes to general culture, education planners will find it extremely difficult to convince parents and students themselves to attend embroidery classes once or twice a week  even with its ability to develop their mental skills and techniques as long as the culture considers it a matter of women and not directly relevant to the jobs they dreamed of by tens of thousands of students and their parents. In another, the majority of Arabic curricula dealing with raising awareness of other pressing issues such as saving energy and conserving resources and preserving the environment are for briefing and science and not training. The practice did not take its full potential as an educational tool.
In the sense that awareness will require more explanation in textbooks or brochures or field visits to institutions competent in one of these areas. I argue here that a difference would happen if students themselves entered into a course targeted at educational experience, that ultimately leads them to discover the importance of saving energy and preserving the environment through the experience. To teach kids the importance of afforestation, make them grow seedlings that they have support care to feel the importance of what they do.

Extrapolation of international experiences in this regard will lead to a basic conclusion that investment in skills training contributed to significant progress in the development as seen in several countries, and most importantly that success was based on a long-term investment.

Mohammad Al Obaidly is a media consultant at bhuth.
[1] See: Global Monitoring Report on Education for All - Youth and skills, harness education to work requirements UNESCO Publications, 2012.
[2] The total allocations for university and general education reached 18% of the total budget of the years 2011 to 2013. For more details you can see the federal budget  on the following link:
 [3] The most prominent of these initiatives is the "smart education" initiative and the Renaissance of the Arabic language, which put up by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai in the year 2012 .

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