The UAE’s Minister of State for Education has called on parents of young children to ban electronic games and encourage them to play more outside.
Jameelah Al Muhairi said modern technology was impacting children’s ability to explore outdoors, to take risks, and to learn through experience.
Her comments came at the start of a major conference aimed at improving early child learning across the UAE.
More than 1,000 educational leaders and teachers came together at the event to discuss solutions to the increasing challenges faced by schools in the country.
“We ask parents to ban their children from using electronic items with visual displays but they don’t know how to keep them busy,” Mrs Al Muhairi said.
“Parents need to be educated about the stages of a child’s development so they can come up with the right type of activities for them.
“When I was a child I played away from my parents with other children in our neighbourhood so much that my mother had to drag me back home.
“But today children are dependent on adults for even the simplest things. This conference is a great opportunity to help advance efforts to teach children during their most critical period of learning and development.”
The three-day early learning conference began on Monday at the Teachers Training Institute in the emirate of Ajman.
It was organised in collaboration with UAE’s Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the International Bureau of Education and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Experts from around the world attended the event, including Professor Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research in the United States, and Dr Mmantsetsa Marope, head of the International Bureau of Education.
Dr Marope said early childhood education was imperative in any society that wished to invest in the long-term success and prosperity of its people.
Addressing the conference, Mrs Al Muhairi said a lack of qualified staff in early childhood learning was one area that the UAE’s education sector needed to address.
She said a second cause for concern was the low number of early learning centres able to provide high-quality teaching to young children.
“Our ambition here is to come up with a magical equation that will transform early childhood care and education in the UAE,” she said.
“One that will attain children’s happiness and wellbeing and simultaneously achieve a high standard in education outcomes so that children can reach their full potential.”
Mrs Al Muhairi also launched a number of new initiatives at the conference designed to boost childhood learning.
One scheme involving both the Ministry of Education and the French non-profit group Ensemble pour l’Education de la Petite Enfance - or Together for Early Childhood Education – will distribute videos to parents in the UAE showing how best to engage with their children and assist their learning.
She also announced that her team were working on an early draft of a new childhood education law and preparing training programs aimed at enhancing teacher skills.
“We are also in the process of developing an integrative curriculum for kindergarten, first and second grades,” said Mrs Al Muhairi.