Encouraging creativity in schools is key

It’s not just women – and it’s not just Emiratis – but an individual's employability depends on one's individual circumstances.

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Last month, I wrote a feature about bridging the gender gap in the Emirati workforce. Emirati women are increasingly involved in a wider range of specialised, technical fields, such as engineering, breaking the mould and, in many cases, surpassing their male counterparts. However, many are struggling.

In truth, it’s not just women – and it’s not just Emiratis – but an individual’s employability depends on individual circumstances. For Emirati women, the reasons that they struggle vary from cultural, logistical and economic circumstances to not meeting the requirements of the job market.

A close friend of mine, who works in the film industry, lives by the maxim: follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life. And, after moving into journalism, I can confidently say that he’s right. It can be difficult and frustrating, but the satisfaction of taking the high road, not compromising my dreams, and those moments of success – it can’t be matched. And to actually be doing a dream job; not many people can say that they do the same.

So many people are struggling to find work; even after taking “practical” degrees over interesting ones. Specialising in a field shows that an individual is capable of acquiring practical skills and vocational cohesion, whether it be engineering or creative writing. But reciting dictated theory demonstrates someone capable of doing that and that alone. There’s no critical thinking involved, something that is often lacking in education. My high school discouraged critical thinking; aside from a few passionate literature and history teachers, it was very strongly discouraged. I was conscious of it at the time, as were my artistic friends, and we resented it. I didn’t want to be another brick in the wall, and could never understand why a teacher would want that for their students. It doesn’t lead to a fulfilling life, which I’ve always wanted for myself, and it doesn’t lead to a job, either.

Teenagers are not encouraged to think about prospective careers until the last minute – and then they have to rush into applying for misguided degrees. Teachers tell them what to apply for instead of asking, and don’t give them the opportunity to make informed decisions for themselves. Work experience and internships should be reserved for high-school students.

On one level, it means that kids have no idea what they’re getting themselves into when they apply to a university, which is an enormous commitment of time and money. And on another, it means that even after graduating, they have to play catch-up for employers who increasingly demand that people have at least six months of unpaid work experience. When you’ve got a student loan, bills and rent to pay, that’s tricky.

On top of that, there’s a strong paradigm in schools that passions should be suppressed and kept as hobbies. It’s a huge problem. Children should be told they can achieve anything they put their minds to; that life is about living, not breathing, and that following their passions is the key to success and excellence.

Hareth Al Bustani co-writes the My Year at The National blog, where this piece was originally published