Education system has been 'broken for 40 years' says Lord Coe in Dubai

Former Olympic athlete and British politician joined experts assessing future of formal learning at an event in DIFC

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A double Olympic champion and British politician has branded the global education model "broken" and called for more to be done to harness the potential of future generations.

Lord Sebastian Coe, who served as a British Member of Parliament for five years and acts as chancellor of Loughborough University in the UK, told a Dubai conference it was crucial to use technology to support children's ambitions.

Experts explored ways to better prepare pupils for a rapidly evolving workplace during the 'Unlearn/Relearn' event at Dubai Industrial Finance Centre (DIFC) on Thursday.

“The current education model is not only not working, it has been broken for 40 years,” said Lord Coe, who headed the successful bid for London to host the 2012 Olympics and claimed gold in the 1,500 metre event in the 1980 and 1984 Games.

“We’re going about it the wrong way. It’s really not a sensible approach to decide a child’s future at the age of 14.

“We have to be able to use technology to help future generations to navigate their way through their passions and interests.”

The Unlearn/Relearn education conference was held in DIFC on Thursday. Antonie Robertson / The National

Dr Senthil Nathan, founder of Edu Alliance consultants, said the current "outdated" education system was too focused on providing students with degrees and diplomas rather than teaching them skills to serve them throughout their lives.

“There’s still an attitude of nobody asking you about what skills you have, there’s still that focus on your qualifications,” he said.

“Even today, in the private sector here, all the focus is having that paper with your qualifications on it rather than particular skills.

“In today’s world that doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Delegates heard how students were hindered in developing the skills they needed to advance in life because schools were locked into strict curriculums, with little time for anything else.

Almost 50 per cent of the population in the region were under 24, Dr Nathan said in a presentation at the event.

He said one third of those were not in school, a figure estimated to be 14.3 million.

The event heard how there would always be a gap between connecting young people with suitable careers if the focus remained on following rigid curriculums, rather than allowing people to develop the skills needed to pursue their passions.

It was impossible to expect students to develop the right skills needed for the future if education models continued to be inflexible, said another expert.

‘It’s very important to realise we don’t know what skills future generations are going to need,” said Waleed Al Baddad, director of smart learning and e-content development at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University.

“My own role at the university didn’t exist 15 years ago. The issue is we only have a certain amount of accredited hours with students so we are already fighting for time, all the time.

“Obviously we can’t just replace the entire education system but we need to find ways to train young people so they are capable of performing several different roles in the future.”

Lord Coe, who is also president of World Athletics, praised the UAE for its commitment to developing young talent and helping them engage with the private sector.

“There is a lot of optimism, innovation and creativity here,” he said.

‘If you have a well-educated workforce, then you will have a well-educated country and effectively have control over your own destiny.”

Updated: May 27, 2022, 4:23 AM