DUBAI // Traditional resistance by Emiratis to attending technical schools to learn a trade instead of a mainstream high school has fallen.
Abdullatif Al Shamsi, the managing director of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), has seen a steady increase in enrolment figures over the past five years.
"For next year's admission we have had 4,000 Emiratis competing for 1,850 placements," he said. "The 4,000 figure is of people who actually sat the admission test, so they are very serious. This means I will only be able to accommodate about 45 per cent of interested Emiratis."
Old beliefs surrounding vocational education options have shifted significantly, Mr Al Shamsi said.
"The concept of the vocational is continually evolving among Emiratis," he said. "More students and families are changing their perception about vocational education."
The Applied Technology High Schools operated by IAT have about 4,500 pupils enrolled at seven campuses across the UAE - four in Abu Dhabi and one each in Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
The Government is already pursuing ambitious projects in the nuclear, air and petrochemical industries, all of which will require Emiratis with both specialist knowledge and hands-on experience.
"We are no longer talking about primitive trades. These require sophisticated technology-based skills which need a different calibre of people," Mr Al Shamsi said.
"The new concept of vocational education necessitates a combination between the academics and hands-on experience. We have to merge between the two to succeed in preparing students for the new concept of vocational education."
Despite evidence of growing acceptance, Mr Al Shamsi said convincing Emiratis to take an education track that prepares them for specific careers remains an important focus for vocational schools.
"The secret to attracting more Emiratis into vocational training is to provide them with a cross-path education system so they can excel in their future career," he said.
"We need to give them the opportunity to climb the ladder in their vocational track and it is why it is important for academics to lay the foundation."
Attaining a certain level in core subjects such as English, maths and science is crucial to a technical school student's success, he said.
"We need to teach students sustainable skills. We do not know what type of jobs will be on offer in the future . . . We need to answer the question of how to prepare the 21st century citizen," Mr Al Shamsi said.
"Part of the answer is that we must provide them with research skills.
"We need to teach how to become critical thinkers and problem solvers and how to communicate. This is when vocational education becomes a value in itself."