Focus on science and maths in UAE public schools 'will create innovators'

Industry says public education overhaul will help country move forward and develop leaders of the future

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A focus on science and maths in UAE public schools will help to create future innovators, industry leaders said.

Through these subjects, youth could be inspired to pursue careers in thriving fields such as health sciences, space and Web3.

The comments were made after the country announced a major education overhaul that will place a strong focus on science and mathematics.

New types of public schools, Generation Schools, were also launched, which will create "highly qualified and experienced" teachers hired for these subjects.

Leaders in these fields spoke to The National about how the subjects will help to create a better future for youth and the UAE.

Endless opportunities

Hessa Al Matroushi, 31, an Emirati who leads the science team for the Emirates Mars Mission, said when she was studying in Dubai public schools in the early 2000s, there was not a strong emphasis on Stem (science, tech, engineering and maths), and that science subjects were taught only at a theoretical level.

She was always interested in learning more about the subject and had hoped that professionals from the industry would make school visits, but that never happened.

She said pupils now have more opportunities and that they should take advantage of them.

“It will help create future leaders and innovators in the country,” she said.

“When I was in public school, we did have science classes, so I was studying subjects like biology, physics and chemistry, and we had labs associated with them, but it wasn’t that frequent.

“I don’t recall ... people from the industry coming and inspiring us.

“I don’t remember opportunities, events or workshops around science being that popular. I feel like those options were missed.

“But now they are available a lot more, especially with social media.”

Even though Ms Al Matroushi missed opportunities in her school years, she was able to catch up during her higher education at the American University of Sharjah, where she took a science degree.

She started working with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre early on in her career and became part of the Emirates Mars Mission team.

Now, she leads the science team for the mission, which includes the Hope probe that reached the Red Planet on February 9, 2021.

The mission has made headlines globally and continues to produce breakthrough science that is impressing scientists around the world, including new types of Martian auroras and readings on atmospheric conditions.

“I feel the current generation is very lucky to have all these opportunities because they're there in front of you and you just need to grab them,” Ms Al Matroushi said.

“For anyone who would say ‘I don't like science’, you need to try it out first.

“You might think you don’t like it because the teacher wasn’t able to convey it in a fun or loveable way.”

‘Future-focused subjects will help'

Top-performing UAE private education groups have been selected to run government schools, with new teachers, staff and management to be recruited.

Private schools have always been a popular choice with UAE citizens, with more than half of Dubai’s Emirati child population attending them.

This is because of the higher quality of education they offer, with subjects that help better prepare pupils for the job market.

Sreejit Chakrabarty, director of the artificial intelligence and robotics centre at the Dubai American Academy, spoke about how his school is trying to create future leaders.

He said the centre delivers future-focused topics, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things, cyber security, quantum computing and cloud architecture.

They will also offer Web3-ready courses on subjects such as blockchain, cryptocurrency, decentralised society, non-fungible tokens and the metaverse.

“By the time our pupils graduate, they will be living in the world of Web3,” he said.

“We feel the measures we are taking to stretch the boundaries of education and blurring the lines between school, university and industry will definitely create a force of pupils, who are ready to tackle the biggest challenges in society.

“They are well equipped with not only a strong foundation of maths and science, but also practical experience of these in the real world.”

He said UAE pupils should tap into the start-up sector, which could help develop problem-solving skills, help with financial education, and allow their learning to make an impact in the community.

‘Create future doctors’

Dr Adel Al Sisi, 46, an Egyptian critical care consultant at Prime Hospital Dubai, said that schools should also be inspiring pupils in the field of health sciences.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the world how important the medical profession is.

Dr Al Sisi was one of the many frontline workers in the country during the height of the pandemic. He received a UAE Golden Visa, a 10-year residency visa, for his efforts.

“UAE has a great vision and has an excellent model that focuses on technology and being advanced,” he said.

“This is why we need to have more young people who pursue careers that will help the country grow even more.

“The focus on science and maths in the new education overhaul would really benefit the youth.

“Health sciences will always be an important sector and this is an area pupils should start learning about from a young age and engage with professionals in the field.”

Updated: June 12, 2022, 3:54 AM