x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Foundation warns of challenges

The opening day of the Arab Strategy Forum heard a call for more priority to be given to public schooling for children as young as two.

DUBAI // More attention should be made to public education to guard against elements that make up a "ticking time bomb" of instability, a leading figure in the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation said yesterday.

A lack of quality education coupled with unemployment and an increasingly young population was a recipe for instability, said Adel al Shared. "If education has a low priority, and you have a population where 65 per cent are under the age of 30, as well as unemployed people, then you are talking about a ticking time bomb," he said. Mr al Shared is the vice chairman and managing director of the foundation, which aims to develop the knowledge and capabilities of the Arab world, and to introduce a future generation of regional leaders.

He said the current challenge facing the UAE in terms of knowledge development was a lack of sustainability. More focus on public education was needed to ensure an educated and employed local population, he added. "When I say sustainability, I mean we need to spend more on public policy making, because we need to have great public policies so that we will be able to have a sustainable population," said Mr al Shared.

"We need to ensure that we have quality [public] education from the age of two, following the quality of the manufacturers of the workforce - the universities." While the Government and local departments had improved the standard of education, little had been done to demonstrate the results, said Mr al Shared. "We have not seen the impact and public education is still not moving forward - not enough has been done," he said.

Mr al Shared was speaking at the opening of the Arab Strategy Forum, which provides a platform for political, business and intellectual leaders. The first day of the forum included the unveiling of the recently published Arab Knowledge Report 2009, co-written by the foundation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which outlined discrepancies and issues facing the Arab world. The report said while there had been some progress on human development, there were still key obstacles preventing countries from achieving their potential.

They included conflict, poverty, unemployment, extremism and illiteracy. "Despite the fact that the region has spent five per cent of its gross domestic product and 20 per cent of its national budgets on education over the past 40 years, approximately one third of its adult population is still unable to read and write," said Dr Adel Abdellatif, the chief of the regional programme division at the UNDP's regional bureau for Arab states.

"About 60 million persons in the Arab countries remain illiterate - two thirds of them women - while almost nine million children of primary school age are out of school. Under such conditions, how can a knowledge society be built?" According to the report, public awareness and government action was needed to place a greater emphasis on the importance of education. It is hoped that those attending the two-day conference will tackle the issues in the report in an attempt to prevent the Arab world from sliding further away from the progression of knowledge elsewhere.

"The report has highlighted a number of gaps that must be attended to seriously and resolutely if we wish to establish a society productive of knowledge," said Dr Abdellatif. nsamaha@thenational.ae