UAE public school students will not have to choose between arts and science, FNC hears

A decades old system requiring pupils as young as 15 to choose between arts and science at school will be dissolved, says the Minister of Education.

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ABU DHABI // The Ministry of Education’s move to merge arts and science streams in public schools will give pupils more time to make career decisions and boost Emiratisation, academics say.

Humaid Al Qattami, Minister of Education, announced the decision to end the need for young students to make early career decisions at the most recent session of the Federal National Council.

“We are changing the arts and science tracks and merging them to one track,” Mr Al Qattami said. “This is very important.”

He said the Government was working towards ensuring university majors had the skills required to satisfy industry demands in line with Vision 2030.

The decades-old two-track system left hundreds of thousands making their career decisions as young as 15. Many later regret their choice but can do nothing about it.

Under the new plan, career paths will be chosen later in the pupils’ academic careers and university students will have the option to change majors.

The announcement came after FNC member Dr Amal Al Qubaisi called for a resolution of the problems associated with the two-track curriculum.

She said the current system has led to more pupils studying arts and too few opting for science subjects at school and later at university.

This contributes to unemployment, Dr Al Qubaisi said, as Emiratis did not meet the needs of the job market.

“Most of the graduates are from literacy and in humanities majors, while what is in demand is science and technical specialties,” she said.

Dr Al Qubaisi said a study found as many as 80 per cent of Emirati boys were literacy graduates, with only 10 per cent studying science. Among female students, only 27 per cent were science graduates.

She said the two-track curriculum would not help the country move towards a knowledge-based economy and Vision 2030, the roadmap to a future in which the country was no longer reliant on hydrocarbons.

“In the future we will face a problem in Emiratisation because studies show low Emiratisation for technical jobs,” Dr Al Qubaisi said.

She said she feared another batch of expatriates would have to be brought in to fill those technical positions.

Dr Nabil Ibrahim, chancellor of Abu Dhabi University, has said he could see how the two-track system was affecting students.

“It’s really bad,” Dr Ibrahim said. “I mean, a 15-year-old kid, how would she or he know what they should go for? Plus kids at that age should study both. Why limit them to one thing?”

The FNC had earlier been told this education revamp was possible but the Government was still looking into it.

The council’s education committee has been asked to study the effects the new system would have.

Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al Khaimah, welcomed the expected change.

“It’s a good move to combine the two, giving students more choice over the type of subjects they study and help them have access to a greater variety of higher education options,” Dr Ridge said.

“It would be important that students would be able to select a mix of subjects that better reflects their abilities and talents.

“It is also good to give students more time to decide on the career they would wish to embark on after leaving school and does not restrict access to them to a certain path.”

But she said that if the change was designed solely to encourage more Emiratis to take up science at university, it might not work. It was important to attract and excite pupils about a career in sciences first.

Shamsa Hamid, a mother of three from Al Ain, said she was unsure about the planned alteration. Mrs Hamid said a lot had already been changed in public schools.

“Right now the two tracks have already started merging together,” she said. “There are a lot of new subjects being transferred to the arts track, like maths.

“Now it’s getting harder. But still, if the children are in the arts track, they cannot later study sciences at university.”