Sheikh Mansour outlines Dh4.1bn scheme to drive innovation in UAE

The Government is engaging innovation in education at full throttle with the launch of seven initiatives, announced at the Government Summit.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, announced at the Government Summit a seven-point scheme to nurture science and innovation in the UAE’s education system. Reem Mohammed / The National
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DUBAI // A Dh4.1 billion, seven-point scheme was launched on Wednesday to make innovation the driving force in schools and universities.

Robot laboratories will be set up in schools, the curriculum will be overhauled to place innovation at its core and there will be innovation “incubators” for university students and other young people.

The initiatives will be funded with Dh4.1bn of the Dh9.5bn budget allocated to infrastructure development.

In schools, children as young as 5 or 6 will be targeted to identify the scientific talent of the future, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, told the Government Summit in Dubai on Wednesday.

“The secret to what makes a country move forward is innovation,” he said. “It is what defines the future of our young generation, which is why the President, Sheikh Khalifa, declared this year to be the year of innovation.”

The first initiative will be robot laboratories in schools, to focus on the importance of science in innovation. Next comes the development of an innovation-related curriculum, in coordination with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, to change how young people think.

“We have to teach them how to learn and research,” Sheikh Mansour said. “All these elements will aim at fostering innovation.”

The third step will make innovation a basic criterion in assessing schools. “This will not only focus on building a curriculum,” Sheikh Mansour said, “but also on building minds – and most importantly, the teacher.”

The fourth initiative will be an annual national exhibition for innovation, with the participation of university students and school pupils, in cooperation with the private sector.

The fifth will establish innovation incubators for university students and other young people, initially supported by the Government until the ideas are concrete and competing on the market.

The sixth step will encourage teachers to discover new talents – the innovators of the future, who could be as young as 5, Sheikh Mansour said.

“We hope to have students who are innovators and programmers in their fifth, sixth or seventh year, so it is important to train the teachers, too, in discovering talents.”

The final initiative will establish training camps, as soon as this summer. “They will be dedicated to innovators and intensive training programmes under experts and specialists,” Sheikh Mansour said.

The experience of South Korea had greatly influenced the Government’s innovation policies, Sheikh Mansour said.

“Korea is among the countries which has innovated the most and supported this sector in education. So the basic principle is that we have students who love research and innovation and they are not just learning by heart.”

South Korea’s remarkable economic growth since “didn’t take place by chance but rather through work, perseverance, effort, focus and opening up new opportunities for innovators”.

As an example of the practical application of innovation, Sheikh Mansour revealed that a medical robot, called the Da Vinci system, was already in service in Sharjah.

“We are proud to say it is now performing surgery in Al Qassimi Hospital under the supervision of an Emirati doctor.”

Dr Arif Al Nouriani, the hospital’s chief executive, said: “We did the first cardiac surgery with the Da Vinci system last November. It will be an alternative to open-heart surgery, which is more invasive.

“This operation costs US$300,000 [Dh1.1m) in the US and only $30,000 here, so it’s also cheaper, and it reduces the risk of infections, too.”

Sheikh Mansour also launched the new post of chief innovation officer in every government institution.

“We’ve signed an agreement with Cambridge University to train 60 chief innovation officers and they are all ready to serve those institutions,” he said.

Other projects include genetically engineered agricultural products.

“Our objective is for everyone to work in the spirit of innovation,” Sheikh Mansour said. “We want to follow this spirit of innovation and the spirit of Sheikh Zayed, who never stopped thinking, innovating, creating and achieving.”