x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The UAE soars, but must strive for even better

The UAE has improved its human-development index to be in the top 40 countries globally, but efforts must be redoubled to do even better.

Students in Abu Dhabi are staying in school longer (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National)
Students in Abu Dhabi are staying in school longer (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National)

By nearly every measure in this year’s UN’s Human Development Report, the UAE is doing well. Emiratis are living to more advanced ages and remaining in education for longer and with less disparity between the genders. The country is now rated 40th of the 187 countries assessed, putting it among the best in the region.

The reaction to this deserves to be two-fold: a quick pat on our backs for the progress made so far, but then a redoubling of efforts to identify and address the areas where the country still has room to improve. Despite the steady progress since the UAE’s early days, with a 30 per cent gain in what the UN calls the Human Development Index (HDI) since the 1980s, nobody should feel complacent.

The UAE – quite rightly – seeks to benchmark itself against the world’s most developed countries rather than simply those within this region, many of which are hindered by either political instability and violence or being in close proximity to countries that are.

One of the big changes for this year’s HDI has been the length of time in which Emiratis stay in education, which is now 13.3 years compared to 12 years just a year earlier. Few statistics augur as well for a country’s future as does participation in higher education, but time in education is an imprecise way of measuring that progress.

More telling data comes from comparing the test scores of Emirati students against their peers internationally. The Programme for International Student Assessment, for example, assesses 15-year-old students’ aptitudes in mathematics, science and reading. The most recent results showed UAE students performed below average, implying deficiencies in the quality of the education being imparted.

Grounds for improvement can also be found in areas such as health. The HDI reported a marginal increase in life expectancy to 76.8 years, up from 76.7 the year before. Some of the credit for that has to go to the outstanding quality of medical facilities available to Emiratis both here and, if needed, overseas at some of the world’s top hospitals.

However preventable lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity are over-represented in the population. As with the education system, quality can be more important than quantity, so let us have a moment to celebrate then make the improvements to get an even better HDI in 2015.