For most countries in the Gulf region, including the UAE, schools follow the traditional two-track system, where pupils as young as 15 are required to choose between studying science and the humanities.
This is a decision that has profound implications for each student as they go into higher education and then pursue a career. Despite all the changes to curricula in the UAE as educators strive to improve the system, this choice has remained unchanged.
The problem is that this system compels pupils to make career decisions at a time when most of them are neither able to make right long-term decisions for themselves, nor can they always clearly understand the purpose of pursuing a particular stream.
The result is often a wrong choice that many children later regret.
This system is also impractical to prepare children for the complex, data-driven workplace of the 21st century, where employers are increasingly putting emphasis on individuals having multiple skills, which one is more likely to acquire through a broader general education.
That is why the decision by the Ministry of Education to combine arts and science in the curriculum must be welcomed.
One obvious advantage of the new system is that it will give pupils more time to make career decisions, thereby giving them “access to a greater variety of higher education options”, as Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, pointed out.
More importantly, however, by teaching the arts and sciences side by side, schools will help children to develop intuition and logic.
From science, students will be able to learn about sound methods for testing hypotheses, as well as objectivity, reasoning and observational ability.
From the arts, they will learn skills to develop arguments and the ability to understand and influence the minds of diverse audiences.
This convergence of previously separate streams will clearly benefit students. Bolder thinkers will be fostered in the classroom, who will not just be able to choose careers that satisfy their intellect and their passions, but who will be able to cope better in professional life.