BRANCHING OUT

Abu Dhabi 2016 | EDUCATION | FOCUS: STEM EDUCATION

While the Emirate has developed prominent educational institutes, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been enhanced as a foil for purely academic studies. STEM qualifications have been identified as an opportunity to build on the skills of students and continue to feed the labor market, particularly in developing sectors.

The long-term goal of Abu Dhabi has been to create a knowledge-based economy through developing an international-class education system that can feed the country's growth through innovation and intellectual property. It is hoped that this will add value to the country's industries that are already witnessing expansion, for instance developing downstream energy capabilities. Simultaneously this can develop nascent sectors that require technology to act as a catalyst for growth, such as telecoms, satellite, nuclear, and utilities.

Issues remain with graduates preferring to work for the large publicly owned companies within the Emirate, or occupying a job within the public administration sector. To diversify away from this tendency, a fully fledged STEM curriculum gives students tangible qualifications that can add value to sectors of the economy that are key for the diversification aspect of the 2030 Vision. Under the recent five-year plan, the Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) is in charge of raising the overall standard of education across the Emirate. This means due attention must be given to all forms of the curriculum, rather than the traditional academic subjects. It also will lead to further integration of STEM at lower levels of education, as opposed to it occupying the role of an alternative later on in the students' education.

The ADEC has recently restructured its Cycle 3 curriculum for children in years 10-12, and STEM now makes up 50% of the teaching. This is combined with professional development aspects that encourage innovation and entrepreneurialism, which includes accounting, computer science, information sciences and systems, economics, and finance, as well as computer, electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering. This will provide children with a strong skill base to enter and develop the labor market, providing skilled human capital to companies looking to develop within the UAE economy.

ADEC continues to reiterate its position; that higher education courses must be proven to be competent in terms of graduate employability otherwise risk being discontinued. The private sector is in particular need of being developed to offset the large burden shouldered by the public companies and will certainly benefit from the delivery of STEM education.

ADEC has launched a plethora of initiatives that will help stimulate STEM education, and innovation as a by-product. Innovation centers have been set up in partnership with major industries to create channels between growing industries and education, while fostering talent and developing student understanding of practical applications of theoretical knowledge. These programs intend to develop another key aspect of the delivery of STEM education, where combining industry know-how with the delivery of aspects of curriculum can deliver measured output through knowledge transfer.

In terms of output, Masdar, the Emirate's sole post-graduate only institute, has been delivering the highest quality. They have led the way in terms of intellectual property and research, with six filed patents and over 80 submitted patent applications. The majority of research is conducted with a view to create genuine added value for local companies, and international entities with operations in the UAE. This includes halophyte research, plants which can grow in wastewater from fish farming irrigation, which can then be harvested as biofuel. Companies involved in the project include Etihad Airways, Boeing, GE Aviation, and refining company Takreer. In terms of space exploration, CubeSats are being developed for launch in partnership with YahSat and Orbital ATK. These miniaturized satellites are used for space exploration and research, with projects being closely monitored by the shareholders. These outputs, in physical or intellectual form, show the value added to companies operating in the UAE through developing STEM in education.