UAEU Experts Consortium Discusses the Future of Education in the Digital Age
Al Ain, UAE, 6th February, 2020 - From customised curriculums to more real life experience preparing students for the workplace of the future, experts discussed ways to help the UAE’s education system step into and beyond the country’s 50th anniversary.
At a special panel on the education of the future held at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) on Tuesday, students, parents, members of industry and academics discussed the ways institutions, curriculums taught and teaching methodology can be adapted to better match the country’s massive technological advancements.
Dr Aquib Moin, astronomy and space science faculty at UAEU, said better connections between academia and industry would be vital in this next chapter: “There are gaps, there’s something missing from these systems, something the students aren’t getting and a gap between teaching and learning which is revealed when they face the real world. Until that time, they don’t find themselves dealing with those issues during their academic lives.”
His sentiments were echoed by panelists at the event, held in preparation of Expo 2020 Dubai, where the university will be hosting a pavilion themed around the future of education, using the world fair as a test bed for the education of the future through its student-led ‘Pathfinders Program’. The university’s pavilion will tackle issues including overcoming unemployment and identifying the skills and curriculums of the future, engaging the country’s youth and parents as key contributors to this new model.
Prof David Thomson from UAEU’s biology department, said the time has come for the UAE to have a more customised system of its own, as it reaches its 50th anniversary, rather than simply basing its formulae on international models, in this new, more mature age. "The evolution that we’ve seen in the last almost 50 years has to a large extent been achieved by following other well established models. Following an international model can give effectiveness and credibility and it is important not to lose that but I think if we sat down to address what we’re trying to achieve, it has to be something catering more closely to the UAE and its unique needs,” he said.
Speaking at the event as guest panellist, Prof Christoph Meinel, Dean of Hasso Platter Institute, Germany, said digital transformation means there is no way the education system globally cannot transform with it. “Digital transformation needs to address the education system, not only the gap which exists, but the speed of change. With IT the change is so fast,” he said. Its system in Germany is an open platform, bringing students together to collaborate and offering its content free (openhpi.de). “This means the role of the teacher is changing. When there are 10,000 people participating in a course you can be sure among those, someone knows more than the professor. This invites others to contribute but not every professor is ready for that. It’s very successful and helpful though.”
Organisations using the platform include World Health Organisation and Volkswagen. “With things like Coronavirus, it’s vital to have good knowledge spread round the world quickly,” he said, something such online educational platforms can transmit and share far quicker than any conventional institution.
Students need greater exposure to the vast range of subjects available in the UAE’s educational wide ranging institutions from colleges and vocational institutions to universities, said Dr Fareed Alameeri, R+D Ecosystem, ADEK, suggesting this must happen from as early as six and seven years old. "Students in sixth or seventh grade need to be exposed to the community, facing life, and this is crucial, because by that exposure, you’ll expose them to options that might spark their interest as they grow older. This is why we notice in our community that students are guided more by parents, friends or colleagues rather than igniting their own sparks of passion.”
Shifting the emphasis purely from academics into a more holistic system, he says is critical, giving the pupils opportunities to develop skills from music to languages, and as they get older, allowing them to take on internships to experience first hand, the world of work. “Those are the opportunities which help them decide their major and future. At university level, we need customisation for curriculums to suit individuals. There needs to be diversity. This will prepare students for their workplace, employability and their future,” he said, suggesting that a more systemised approach connecting universities to industry, must be a goal for the country moving forward.
Dr Yehya Al Marzouqi, Executive Director at Tawazun said, “Our achievements in the UAE speak for themselves but if we sit complacently we will nosedive and the university system has to come along as well,” agreeing that it is students as young as six and seven who must be the targeted, helping them develop character from school age.