x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Better schools will engage students

A mandatory graduation age for students in the UAE is essential. However, education officials, students and parents must all recognise that learning is a lifelong endeavour.

Diploma or immediate payday? It is a quandary young sports stars the world over know well. It's also a question Emirati teenagers are asking with alarming frequency.

As we reported yesterday, federal education officials are raising the mandatory age at which children may leave school - from 13 to 16 years old. The move is meant to encourage a more educated society and bring the country's educational system in line with global standards.

It's easy to see the why Emirati boys and girls might be tempted to quit early. Indeed, for many 13-year-olds, any alternative to school might seem preferable. For older students, the prospect of steady work, and no more homework, might seem to make sense.

The trouble is that teenagers are not always the best judges of what they need to succeed. Education officials are doing their part to show them; parents must also do theirs by instilling a desire to learn.

For a country with the aim of building a knowledge-based economy staffed with national talent, the UAE has a lot of work to do. Emirati high school students consistently underperform on standardised tests for reading, writing, maths and science. It is not just a matter of students staying in secondary schools longer, they have to be better educated while they are there.

Of course, keeping students in class longer will not guarantee they stay engaged. That will take better teachers -but it will also require giving good teachers the flexibility to be great. High teacher turnover in Dubai is largely the result of frustrated educators without proper support from their bosses. At a time when teaching staff has to be developed, curricula bolstered and classroom sizes trimmed, the worrying trend at many schools is the cutting of budgets.

Particular attention needs to be paid to the increasing number of young men who fail to complete post-secondary education. At present more than 70 per cent of students in higher education are female.

Vocational training programmes are one way to bring real-world skills to recent graduates. More importantly, students need to recognise the value of the education they are offered - and that starts at the cradle.

The mandatory graduation age is the right step, simply because the education of a 13-year-old is not enough for today's world. More importantly, though, education officials, students and parents must all recognise that despite what some may believe, learning is a lifelong endeavour.