x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Educational reforms require patient approach

Building a knowledge-based economy is a long-term endeavour. Its creation depends on a patient and persistent approach to educational reform.

Every one of the UAE's development goals depends on an educated, skilled workforce. That's why a discussion about the priorities and long-term goals of the UAE's educational reforms is so important to the country's future.

While the FNC is currently engaged in a conversation about education, the debate risks becoming too narrowly focused on next year's budget rather than on what it will take to improve the competitiveness of the UAE's students for the long-term. Admittedly, the proposal to cut the Ministry of Education's budget by 35 per cent demands attention. It also demands context. First of all, the Ministry of Education is no longer responsible for funding schools in Abu Dhabi, which accounts for the lion's share of the budget reduction.

FNC members can best serve the nation's students by looking beyond one year's budget and by engaging in a discussion of long-term educational priorities. As they probably understand from their experience in their own communities, teaching is one of the central challenges in the nation's primary and secondary schools. If the budget proposes to freeze salaries for teachers in primary and secondary schools, FNC members have reason to highlight the long-term dangers of that decision. As a report from McKinsey that the Ministry of Education regularly consults concluded in 2007, "failure that comes as a result of a student not having a good teacher may mean a cumulative failure for the next three years".

A salary freeze risks creating an exodus of the best teachers, to the long term disadvantage of students and society at large. As we reported yesterday, universities are struggling to cope with students who require remedial instruction when they arrive. These costs will only increase if there is a dearth of quality teachers in primary and secondary schools.

In any debate about education, it is important to remember that it takes years for reforms to show up in improvements to the work-force. Building a knowledge-based economy is a long term endeavour. Its creation depends on a patient and persistent approach to educational reform.