x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Children are our future, but are we preparing them for theirs?

Education should not be limited to the four walls of a classroom, some of it should be in the outside world.

My husband and I went on a "babymoon" to London over the summer. It's like a honeymoon, except I'm pregnant, not a newlywed.

Arabian Peninsula residents have a love obsession with London during the summer. Certain areas of the city seem to have more Gulf citizens than actual Londoners. Our goal was to enjoy doing things that many visitors from the Gulf don't seem to do, such as visit the zoo (which was phenomenal) and go to museums.

I love history, and anything that predates the 20th century. I always feel that if I want to be able to have a conversation with people from a different part of the world, the least I can do is educate myself about their culture, way of life and history.

High on our list was the Science Museum in London, our first visit there. The contents are fascinating: even if you've studied history, it is a real eye-opener to see the first design of anything, such as a telephone, while knowing what it has become today. Such things make you realise how far we have come in technological evolution.

There were exhibits for everything you could think of, exciting people no matter if they were 5 or 85. Everything, including the gift shop, had items to entice people physically and mentally, and enhance our knowledge and understanding of how things work.

One thing I notice when travelling in Europe is that no matter what time of year, there are always busloads of children who get to visit the museums as part of field trips.

Outings like this do not happen in the same way in the UAE. I can't remember the last time my little sister told us at the dinner table about how she had discovered something new, or had bothered to watch the History Channel or National Geographic as part of a school project.

We may not yet have the infrastructure to assemble collections of our historical artefacts, but we are on the way, and will have big museums sooner rather than later.

Yes, the UAE has grown significantly in the past four decades and we are working on bringing in world-class museums. But my question is: why is it so much easier and faster to have a Kidzania and a FunCity than it is to create a real learning experience for our entire society? Why does it take years to get a major museum but only a few months to get a FunCity?

Do we really need big-name museums to entice us to look inside? Aren't our history and knowledge deep enough to build and sustain museums that can house elements of a local or regional knowledge economy, to enhance our learning?

We talk about children being our future, but how much are we investing in theirs? Is giving them an iPad each birthday teaching them how to become better people? And just because every form of "fun" device is available, they are not fully developing their abilities.

So how do we fix this so that our children grow up respecting and using museums and similar learning institutions?

One key is for the public and private sectors to join hands. Government can legislate only so much, while private businesses can help to fund these structures or even deliver the content. Right now, few private businesses seem to make much effort to give back to the community, unless it's in exchange for some sort of recognition.

Educational institutions, teachers and parents need to work on a system that provides children with a well-rounded set of experiences, from spending more time outdoors to going on exchange programmes so they can see how and what students learn in other parts of the world.

Education is not limited to the four walls of a classroom. To prepare a person for the outside world, at least part of education should be in the outside world.

After all, we can't expect to compete on a global scale if our mindsets don't have a global perspective.


Aida Al Busaidy is a social commentator and the former co-host of a Dubai television show

On Twitter: @AidaAlB