x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Education can improve 'only by engaging stakeholders'

Improvements in education cannot happen without the consultation of parents, teachers and industry, educators say.

Homaid Al Shemmari, the executive director of Mubadala Aerospace, was among the panelists on day two of the education summit.
Homaid Al Shemmari, the executive director of Mubadala Aerospace, was among the panelists on day two of the education summit.

ABU DHABI // Improvements in education cannot happen without the consultation of parents, teachers and industry, educators have said at a forum in the capital.

The Transforming Education Summit, which was hosted by the Abu Dhabi Education Council, concluded yesterday after education leaders discussed how to raise standards, trust, employment and create lifelong learning opportunities.

"If you want to put the right solutions, you have to engage all stakeholders," said Amal Al Qubaisi, the FNC's first deputy speaker.

"And everyone should feel responsible for the change. It is a social responsibility."

Eric Hanushek, an academic from Stanford University in the US, said there needed to be more accountability for schools to receive a return on reform.

"You need to let schools have control over their operations and back it with a good accountability system," Mr Hanushek said.

"It should also be embedded in local culture and parents must be a part of the accountability process. One way of increasing accountability is inspections and international assessments but then the results must be made public."

Jussi Hiltunen, a senior associate at the consultant Booz & Company, which was a partner of the event, said reform was not creating an impact because of disengagement. "It has always been something that has come from the top and something that is not engaged," he said.

Mr Hiltunen said reform needed a holistic design, which required leading across sectors.

"It's not only about what I can do at the ministry of education but what I can do to involve the finance ministry or the health ministry too," he said. "[And it is] not only the government but across the private sector as well."

He said best practice could not be imported from other countries but had to be created around the existing culture.

"You must not try to change the preference of parents to a certain model," Mr Hiltunen said. "It should be about working with them to develop something they can easily adapt to."

Muhyiddin Yassin, Malaysia's deputy prime minister and minister of education, said everyone wanted education standards to be raised, "so it is fitting that the government engages across sections of society".

He said Malaysia had begun a "National Education Dialogue" which included the public in what the changes should look like.

"For the first time we have a nationwide consultation programme," Mr Yassin said.

Teachers and parents have raised similar issues with reform in the country.

"There is a lot of change all the time and before we can adopt one, another one is in place," said an Emirati teacher who did not wish to be identified. "And that is affecting the children, too."

Although government schools do not have autonomy, the authority said it planned to reduce control over schools after building capacity among local staff.

Industry professionals said the slow education improvements over the years, and lack of collaboration with other sectors, had affected the human capital required for economic growth.

Homaid Al Shemmari, the executive director of Mubadala Aerospace, said the UAE had an advantage over the rest of the world, yet it faced challenges.

"We have the leadership, the money, resources and motivation, yet what we do not have today is human capital," Mr Al Shemmari said.

"The education system has not caught up with change."

He said the UAE still heavily relies on a foreign workforce.

"We need to bring Emiratis up to speed and try to build education programmes that make them step up to the plate.

"Stop looking at government jobs and set priorities in areas that we need Emiratis in."

Dr Rafic Makki, the executive director of the Office of Planning and Strategic Affairs at the Abu Dhabi Education Council, said the capital's school reform aimed to provide that well-rounded approach to change yesterday.

Quek Jin Jong, the principal officer at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, a country with a top-ranking education system, said it developed human capital by aligning the objectives of schools with those of industry.

"Education and universities work with the economic development board, ministry of manpower, to forecast what kind of students will be needed.

"This is assigned to the different schools and universities to produce within the timeframe."

The summit ended with recommendations to set up working committees to develop strategies in areas of efficiency and funding of education, engagement and increasing efforts towards best practice.

aahmed@thenational.ae