TOWARDS A MORE RESILIENT NATION

Abu Dhabi 2020 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rear Admiral James Anthony Morse, President of Rabdan Academy, on education in the UAE, curriculum design, and cyber security.

How is Rabdan placed in the education ecosystem and what factors shape the design of your curriculum?

Rabdan Academy is an Abu Dhabi government entity and our founding decree allows considerable flexibility for us to work across the Abu Dhabi, Federal, private and international market, under the direction of a Board of Trustees comprising very senior leaders from across our major stakeholders. The Academy is now over five years old, with major stakeholders in safety, security, defense, emergency management and crisis response (SSDEC), such as the Armed Forces GHQ, Abu Dhabi Police, the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and National Security Council, amongst others. The Academy acts as a catalyst to build and develop interoperability between relevant entities, based upon education and training programs, which aim to make the SSDEC sector more effective and in the longer term to allow rationalization to make education and training more efficient too. The Academy is also working with stakeholders to identify common standards and doctrine, and how these can be aligned for organizational interoperability. This should result in better coordination of training, which improves operational performance whilst resulting in clear financial benefits. The added benefit of coherence in the education and training system, such as agreed national standards, is that this enables nationally recognized skills certification, which ultimately creates a more employable and portable workforce. In addition to our academic programs, the Academy has also been making significant progress in the development and delivery of short courses and vocational training over the past few years. Moreover, we are working to provide more flexible pathways to education, including recognition of prior learning, suitable for the future requirements and in alignment with relevant regulations, so that we can the contribute to a highly skilled workforce, prepared for the future challenges. As the Academy grows we are also increasingly looking internationally, to develop partnerships with top universities for mutual benefit; this includes further building on our successful student exchange program, which allows our students to spend a semester at another international university and for them to send students to Rabdan Academy. In this Year of Tolerance such exchange programs contribute to building understanding and trust, and help to break down barriers and misconceptions, with a semester overseas being a most enriching experience for a student.

How does technology effect curriculum design and how can technology be a utility to build transferable skills?

Technology has a significant impact on curriculum design, as the SSDEC sector is moving very fast across the spectrum of new scientific developments. In particular, everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the many questions and challenges it raises for the future of education. If AI will replace current skills and workers, then what skills should be taught to ensure our students are ready for an AI-enhanced future? With such fast technological developments, it is not easy for organizations to predict what skill-sets they will need from employees six years from now, which is the length of development of a new program and its delivery at the Bachelor level, so this presents a significant challenge when designing a curriculum. However, I would contend that fundamental human skills, such as critical thinking and leadership, are going to be just as important, if not more-so, as AI enters the workplace. Our graduates will need to be able to do the things that AI cannot or should not do, such as showing curiosity, creativity and innovation, ethical thinking and other human abilities that are hard to program into computers and artificial intelligence. To my mind, the challenges of timeliness, relevance and student availability also mean that there will be a debate over the best form and shape of education and training in the future, with sponsors increasingly demanding shorter-term interventions and close partnership. This would allow highly qualified employees access to education and training, without requiring lengthy leave of absence from work, relevant to their employment and sponsor. Within this approach the benefits of education as opposed to training, such as focused research, critical thinking and developing leadership, must not be lost. For example, the Academy's Masters' of Intelligence Analysis research projects are related to either the student's current employment, or the jobs they will have upon graduation, so they are focused on real world or future issues. We are trying to teach techniques and approaches to thinking for problems that will arise in the future, via problems that exist today. These are the transferable skills that AI may not be able to provide. In a nutshell, education is about preparing students to deal with the unknown and unknowable problems of the future; training is about preparing them for the known problems of today.

How do you assess the increasing role of technology in areas such as policing and emergency management?

Technology is transforming the whole SSDEC sector across the UAE, bringing many advantages and benefits, including linkages to partners and allies worldwide. Technology is, of course, also being exploited by criminals and terrorists, so we are effectively in an arms race in the security area. Perhaps some of the fastest moving areas of policing are found in cyberspace, facial recognition and predictive algorithms, which can provide significant advantages in the fight against criminals, but there is a concomitant ongoing international debate about the balance of privacy with security, as nations seek to find a way to keep their citizens safe and secure, whilst allowing individuals appropriate levels of privacy. This debate must of course be shaped by the threats that individual nations and their societies face, with a recognition that “one size will not fit all". In the field of emergency management technology is also having a major impact, with predictive software now better able to provide warnings of emergencies, better design and novel technologies are making our environment safer and in the event of an emergency we can use technology in many ways to respond more effectively. On the latter point, drones and unmanned vehicles, both with sophisticated sensors, allow us to search disaster sites more quickly and safely, and of course mobile phones have transformed our ability to communicate with survivors. Simulation and synthetic environments also contribute to our effective training and response to emergencies. But technology is not the answer to every problem - there are plenty of international examples of wars in which the side with the best technology, people and training did not prevail because they did not understand the war they were fighting. This can equally apply to other areas of the SSDEC field. So the Academy still emphasizes and teaches the importance of understanding the character of the conflict or situation, whether in the military or policing area, so that we can think through the problems to find solutions through good analysis and planning. So we must remember that not everything has a technological solution; frequently the skills needed are human ones, such as truly understanding the problem, and these are skills that are best developed through education aided, but not replaced by technology.

As information and cyber security challenges are continuously evolving, what needs to be done to create greater awareness of these threats?

While the Academy covers the topics of cyber security and information security, in the context of how it relates to policy and operations, we do not teach our students the technical aspects, which are covered at other institutions. The speed at which cyber security challenges are evolving means that every student in the SSDEC sector must be aware of how this area will impact them and their organization. As with all technologies, our opponents are also heavily investing in cyberspace, with organized crime, as an example, seeing it as an area of lower risk and higher returns. Cyber policy around warfare has also been a hot topic of policy debates, with a particular challenge of garnering international consensus on the legal framework that should govern cyber operations. Our students need to be aware of this debate and the policy freedoms, constraints and uncertainties that accompany it.

What are your expectations and outlook for the year ahead?

We held our first graduation ceremony in October 2018, so are proud that our graduates are in the workplace in 2019 using the skills they have gained at Rabdan Academy to keep the UAE a safer and more secure place. As we look forward into 2019 we will be launching our new Master's program in Policing and Security Leadership, to add to our portfolio of relevant programs across the SSDEC sector. We are also seeking to expand internationally, building on our reputation for maintaining the highest standards and seeking the best possible educational outcomes for our students. We will be offering a wider range of vocational training courses to our stakeholders and also developing the centers of excellence project to enhance interoperability and effective, efficient training regimes. We are in the process of developing plans for a new simulation center, which we hope to have approved and building started in 2019. This will enable the Academy to run a host of scenarios, whereby our students benefit from diverse experiences prior to the real world of work, and we can experiment and research new techniques and procedures to be more effective in the future. Moreover, through 2019 we will continue to build our research capabilities. Rabdan Academy's reputation will continue to grow throughout 2019 and our alumni will be recognized for their achievement and contribution “towards a more resilient nation".