Education system needs to adapt to a fast-changing world

In the face of constant change, students will need to have different skills all the time.

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Education is the foundation on which a country is built. It is through education that we help our children to reach their full potential, both as productive members of the economy and as responsible, principled citizens.

But how can we build an education system that best develops the adults of tomorrow? It’s not easy to build schools that will cater to the needs of the fast-changing world of the 21st century.

Consider the major changes in our society over the past 30 years and how they have affected the way we teach today. The world of 2044 will be very different again from that of 2014. Helping students to develop a framework in which they think about future challenges is critical. Enabling students to participate in events such as the Montessori Model United Nations programme, the world’s only education programme of its kind for children between 9 and 15 years, will help them develop new perspectives and useful skills.

Over the past 30 years, there have been remarkable changes in how people work. The time when people stayed for 25 years in one job is long gone in developed societies. Therefore, schools now need to prepare students for a life in which they may have more than 10 jobs before they turn 50. Employers now look for employees who have not only mastered core subjects, but who are flexible, deal with change maturely and can learn new skills quickly.

The economy itself is changing. The knowledge economy and the service economy are expanding rapidly all over the world. In Abu Dhabi, the long-term transition towards a sustainable, high-value knowledge economy will see the non-oil economy grow at an average of more than eight per cent per annum.

Communication, collaboration and creativity are the skills required in the knowledge-based industries of the future.

Globalisation requires everyone to think differently. The world is smaller place than it was 50 years ago. Our children will need to be “globally competent” to understand other cultures and be comfortable with cultural complexities.

The world of information has also changed dramatically. The amount of information in the world is doubling every two years. So the way we manage this will have to evolve. The students of the future will need to learn how to discern, aggregate and synthesise information in ways we cannot yet imagine.

In the face of such tremendous change, our students will need to have different skills. Hence, education will no longer just be about “knowing”, but will require us to focus on the development of soft skills, communication, creative thinking and flexibility.

But education could easily get lost in its quest to train children for the jobs of tomorrow. Our role as educators must focus on more than just “professional” development. Educators in the UAE must create learning environments that provide young minds with a comprehensive, well-rounded education, covering culture, language, value development, creating and retaining a connection to our heritage.

For Aldar Academies, this also includes a strong focus on the elements that make the UAE culturally distinct. Of particular importance is the teaching and promotion of the Arabic language. As educators, we have a central role in supporting the efforts to preserve the UAE’s national heritage and promote our national identity, culture and character.

It is easy to think that you can improve education just by getting the right curriculum, right testing system and right management scheme, and that somehow these will create great schools.

But education is not an assembly line. The most powerful element in education is the teacher. Children do not learn on an assembly line – they learn through human contact.

Teachers have an important task to play. They shape future generations. They must be knowledgeable and creative, but they must also empathise and communicate on a daily basis with those students they have a responsibility for inspiring.

For educators, recruiting and retaining the best staff assumes a far greater importance than ever before.

Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak is Chairman of Aldar Academies, a UAE-based education provider