Compulsory high school education to the age of 18 is a good idea, particularly if students are offered a range of options.
Options essential in education path
Few things are more important to the future of a nation than the quality of its education system. A nation's success - indeed, its very viability - is defined by the way it prepares the children of today for the challenges of tomorrow.
The UAE has only been around for 40 years and, understandably, it is still fine-tuning its legal and social infrastructure to ensure a sustainable future.
The latest change to the educational system, endorsed at a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, is to raise the compulsory school-leaving age to 18. Stressing the aim of ensuring students are better prepared for the workforce, the executive director of the National Institute for Vocational Education, Dr Naji Al Mahdi, described the new regulation as "essential". He said the high number of students currently leaving school earlier than Grade 12 "will affect the country's labour market in the next 20 to 30 years".
This is an important step, but there is concern that it appears to take a "one size fits all" approach. While nobody questions the need for every child to have a high-quality and complete education, the type of education they receive must fit their abilities and the nation's requirements. The UAE of the future will need nuclear scientists, doctors and lawyers, but it will also need librarians, administrators and tradesmen.
As The National reports, high school graduates who did not make the grade for entrance into federal universities were informed yesterday that they could opt instead to attend one of the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute colleges. Students who were seeking academic study might be disappointed, but for others this is a positive outcome because it opens up a variety of options for their future careers, as well as a platform for further study.
However, young people so inclined should already be on the vocational pathway well before they finish Grade 12. If education is to be compulsory to the age of 18, then the secondary system must include the same options and flexibility that the tertiary system is now beginning to offer.
The important thing is that students are not left to twiddle their thumbs for two years - forced to study subjects for which they have no aptitude or interest, doing poorly and potentially disrupting others - when they could be well on the way to a successful, satisfying career.