The UAE's harnessing of AI at the national level can benefit everyone

Besides AI in education at the degree level, there are plenty of other options in the UAE for a diverse audience to upgrade their skills

Graduates of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Powered by automated translation

The UAE has laid strong groundwork to train and develop its workforce in AI. It offers free, publicly available courses for AI for all levels of learners. It requires leading public sector employees to be trained in generative AI while more junior public sector employees receive instruction when needed. Notably, over 54 per cent of the UAE's workforce incorporates AI in their jobs in fields such as media and communications, education and training, customer service, manufacturing and operations management. An even greater number of professionals indicated their interest in receiving training in generative AI.

There is also a critical mass of the country’s existing workforce, however, that fears displacement due to the advent and popularisation of generative AI. These concerns could be alleviated by introducing foundational elements of AI training – statistics, data science, computer science, information technology development and principles of ethics and social harm – into school curricula at an earlier stage.

While AI reshapes the skills required by the workforce, it also holds the promise of teaching these same skills. The adoption of personalised AI tutors into educational systems in the country could be useful. Personalised AI tutors powered by Generative AI are a new concept, still being pilot-tested around the world. Led by pioneers in the ed tech field such as Khan Academy, a recently-released tutor ‘Khanmigo’ provides one-on-one learning by adapting content to the learner’s individual level.

According to a recent report published by Harvard Business Review: “Generative AI, if fed deliberately designed and structured prompts, has the potential to give every student a personalised tutoring experience on any topic. While there are still a number of issues with using AI for tutoring (like the substantial risk of AI-generated fabrications), the technology shows great promise as a scalable, accessible way of helping increase student comprehension.”

Collaborations with leading educational institutions and tech organisations are under way to design AI programmes

At the core of the UAE's National AI Strategy 2031 lies a commitment to upskill the workforce through specialised training, secondments and international study tours. The UAE is heavily investing in Stem education, with a current enrolment of 22 per cent of university students in Stem disciplines. The government's target is to enhance the skills of one-third of Stem graduates annually, cultivating a talent pool primed for driving AI innovation.

Simultaneously, collaborations with leading educational institutions and tech organisations are under way to design AI programmes, ensuring that students receive an education that matches real-world industry demands.

The UAE has already put into motion its agenda of upskilling for AI at the national level. These efforts span training for government employees, summer camps for school students across levels, certificates in AI skills for technical and vocational students enrolled at the Higher Colleges of Technology, and many degree programmes at the bachelor’s and master’s level where AI can be studied.

There are 24 degree-granting institutions providing in AI-related fields. Notably, the Mohamed bin Zayed University for AI (MBZUAI), established in 2019, offers graduate programmes and generous financial incentives to encourage the brightest minds to come and further the country’s AI agenda. Recently, the second batch of master’s degree holders graduated from MBZUAI. And New York University in Abu Dhabi is planning the launch of a graduate programme in Data Science after a successful experimental phase running the Data Science and AI Lab.

In addition to AI education at the degree level, there are plenty of other options for upskilling. The Higher Colleges of Technology, the Dubai Future Foundation through its Dubai Future Academy and the UAE AI Summer Camp 5.0and 42 Abu Dhabi in partnership with Ecole 42 Paris, a free global coding institution, are already educating diverse audiences such as school students as young as 10, college students, freelancers, entrepreneurs and the general public.

The National Programme for Artificial Intelligence in the UAE and the University of Oxford, while meant primarily for government officials, is also open to private sector employees and interested UAE residents, with a stated aim to build capacity towards the achievement of the 2071 centennial goals. Initiatives such as all of these demonstrate the intent and seriousness of the UAE government to upskill its population in AI and modern technology development.

All these initiatives are already yielding results. The Cisco AI Readiness Index released in November claims that 73 per cent of UAE business and IT leaders believe that their organisations have AI strategies that are well developed. However, 93 per cent admitted that their data exists in silos across the organisation. This statistic may stem from the fact that no formal AI literacy training has existed in the UAE – or elsewhere – until very recently. For the Emirates, the challenge remains to reorient the national curriculum for the future, providing skills to all citizens and residents.

Unesco provides detailed guidelines for how to integrate AI into curricula across K-12 levels, and lists the existence of the UAE Technology Subject Framework. With this, the country declares its intent to embed AI learning across the elementary, middle and high school levels. Yet, more details about this framework are not easily available to the general public.

Embedding AI-related subjects, including computer science, data literacy and ethics early into school curricula and employing AI to accelerate learning will require streamlining national human and economic development strategies, educational and business policy and effective co-ordination and implementation. Following a series of successes, this appears to be the UAE’s next challenge, and one that it is well up the task of meeting.

Published: January 16, 2024, 4:00 AM