x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Schools offered Dh4.6bn of engineering software free

The software would be made available free to schools in an effort to spur the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Pupils could benefit from the computer-aided design software package being offered by two companies and Dubai Men's College.
Pupils could benefit from the computer-aided design software package being offered by two companies and Dubai Men's College.

DUBAI // High schools are being offered free engineering software worth Dh4.6 billion (US$1.3bn) as part of an attempt to address the nation's chronic shortage of scientists and engineers. "Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects are collectively considered the core technology underpinnings of an advanced society," the organisations launching the initiative said in a statement.

"The strength of the Stem workforce is viewed as an indicator of a nation's ability to sustain itself." The issue presents a major hurdle to Emiratisation of technical sectors. "There is a shortage," said Shaikha al Shamsi, the acting chief executive for educational affairs at the Ministry of Education. "This issue still needs a lot of work. The country's future and priorities are in manufacturing and engineering, not just in management and the traditional tracks."

Dr Ali Ibrahim, assistant professor at UAE University and an expert on education, concurred. "There is an acute shortage in engineers, doctors and scientists among Emiratis," he said. "There is a huge problem that occurs in Grade 10 in education here. Students go to it and then most of them go into the arts. I don't know if it's the teachers, the subjects, or if they lack the desire to join the science and engineering track."

The deal offers all schools a free licence for Pro/Engineer Wildfire, a computer-aided design (CAD) software package that normally sells for Dh3.3 million. Although the organisations have allocated Dh4.6 billion for the programme, that amount could be used up only if every school in the nation applied for the offer. The software is used to model and design buildings and manufacturing environments, as well as analyse existing structures.

It is used by 600,000 professional engineers in 50,000 companies around the world. It is also used by 10 million students. Dubai Men's College will also provide training for students and teachers at schools that want to use the software. The programme is developed by PTC, a software developer based in the United States. The initiative is a collaboration between PTC, Dubai Men's College and Edutech, an educational institute that has been operating in the UAE for 20 years.

The aim of the initiative was to "inspire students in the UAE to pursue design and engineering related courses and then consider a future career in those industries", said ASF Karim, the chief executive of Edutech. "Studies have shown that children start to form ideals of what career they want to pursue during this period [of high school]," he said. "To increase the number of qualified engineers and designers, we need to increase the number of students studying these areas in universities and colleges. To do this, we need to engage high school students." Mr Karim said he expects a "significant number of schools" to take up the initiative.

Dr Ibrahim said the donation was an excellent step as long as it was available to students in grades 9 and 10, before they branch out. He added that such initiatives could not solve the problem on their own. He said parents should allow their daughters to seek careers in fields outside traditional ones like education or management. He called for financial incentives, such as scholarships and repaying tuition fees for college students who seek scientific degrees. Schools should also have careers counsellors.

Finally, school management should take into account the needs of society at large. "I don't think they get the message that they have to produce people who are more oriented to science," said Dr Ibrahim. "For many principals, I feel that they only want to do the minimum effort." kshaheen@thenational.ae