x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Drop-out rate calls for new opportunity

With a high drop-out rate urgent solutions are needed if Emirati youth are to be re-engaged in education.

In September, the UAE Minister of Labour Saqr Ghobash told a G20 meeting that integrating Emiratis into the private-sector workforce was a bigger challenge than the fallout from the global economic downturn.

The response to his comments, from Emiratis and analysts alike, was almost unanimous: equip UAE nationals with the skills required to succeed in the private sector through more practical training. But such training, whether through higher education or by private sector organisations, remains thin on the ground. What's more, problems begin to appear at an earlier level.

As The National reported today, a study undertaken by the Abu Dhabi Education Council has revealed serious shortcomings in the adult education system and called for a serious overhaul. The numbers make grim reading.

Almost 50,000 Emiratis in the capital did not finish high school and are finding it hard to get back into education or training, while a further 16,000 enrolled in adult-education centres across Abu Dhabi emirate are not being provided age-appropriate education and vocational skills. The country's Emiratisation drive suffers as a result.

Urgent solutions are needed if Emirati youth are to be re-engaged in education. Traditional university four-year programmes are not the only appropriate route. Community colleges, tailored vocational training and scholarships - for study at home and abroad - are all good alternatives.

In June, the columnist Manar Al Hinai wrote in these pages that the UAE's spending on education can only be effective if it is paired with scholarship programmes that correspond to needs within the labour market. "Emirati students should be encouraged to enter those fields that are demanded by the country," she wrote.

This is already happening in some fields: the UAE's economic diversification programmes are opening opportunties in semiconductors, nuclear and renewable energy and business development, to name a few.

But not every student will become a nuclear physicist. In addition to these education-intensive fields, there has to be an opportunity for students whose talents lie in other other areas, from the creative arts to traditional crafts to social services. With such diversity each person can be able to find his or her vocation.