MASTER MINDS

Dubai 2020 | EDUCATION | FOCUS

Dubai's educational system is trying to keep its most talented students in the Emirate by bringing schools from overseas to set up shop in Dubai.

The education sector in Dubai is undergoing a transformation unlike any before. Indeed, classrooms around the world are trying to adapt to digitalization trends. With digitalization happening so quickly, it is difficult for any educational system to keep up with demands from students, teachers, and employers. There was a time not long ago when typing was a relatively rare skill. Now, being able to type quickly and accurately is an ability employers and educators assume their students will have. But these are skills that still need to be learned, at some point, in order for people to have them. In Dubai, whose leaders are determined to increase the technological skillsets of its workforce, there is much debate over what the next must-have ability will be.

“As our world continues to change faster and faster, micro credentials and digital badging will also have an impact on how we view and value traditional qualifications," Abudlla al Karam, Director General of Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority, told TBY. “Technology and AI will not only make education better in terms of volume of information and personalization of information, but will also make learning more fun and engaging. AI can serve as a personalized teaching tool at scale, which will change the purpose of a teacher's traditional role in future. The idea of school being brick and mortar is changing. School may not continue to be a full-time job for students."
People who work in information and communications technology know that updating their skills is the only way to stay employable. As such, learning does not end when one receives a diploma and graduates, but rather is an around the clock endeavor for the rest of their careers.

This is the case for everybody, not just professionals. In 2005, few knew how to use an iPhone with a user interface that required deft manipulation of a touch-sensitive screen to expand, scroll, and swipe on. Today, being unable to do such things would be a serious impediment to daily life, in Dubai or anywhere else. But officials in Dubai want to make sure that students in the Emirate with big ambitions in technology stay in Dubai to get their education. Traditionally, Emirati students have sought out degrees in distant places, but a growing trend across the Gulf has seen American or European universities building campuses there. The Rochester Institute of Technology is one example. To complement its headquarters in upstate New York, RIT has opened a campus in sunny, warm Dubai.
“Our mission as a university is that we would like to change the landscape of education in the region," Yousef Al Assaf, the president of RIT Dubai, told the Arab News. “We have many parents and many kids that would like to go abroad to study in America and Europe because they think they will have more opportunities and learn more. We are doing this here in Dubai. Students will have the same quality of education but it's relevant to their future."
At RIT, students can learn a variety of subjects related to in-demand job opportunities in the Gulf, especially science and technology, useful in the petrochemical industry.

In the long run, however, regulators and officials in Dubai should aim to further diversify the Emirate's educational offerings by adding a broad range of humanities and liberal arts courses, which will help students think critically about their jobs. As more and more jobs surrender to automation or machine learning, the real value-added potential of education in the future will be doing what computers cannot do: thinking for themselves. That is a valuable skill, from the boardroom to the oil field.