x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Work needed to steer boys into universities

While poll finds that similar proportions of Emirati boys and girls finish secondary education, boys are far more likely to drop out after that.

ABU DHABI // More effort is needed to ensure Emirati boys know the importance of higher education, academics say.

Although the report shows a similar proportion of Emirati boys and girls finish secondary education, boys are far more likely to drop out after that.

"The trend tends to be that more women are likely to have tertiary education than men," said Dalia Mogahed, the director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center.

In 2008, about 22 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 had dropped out of education, according to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the Dubai schools regulator. Most university dropouts leave in the first couple of years.

"Girls see a purpose to higher education, they see a point to it," said Dr Natasha Ridge, the acting director of research at the Dubai School of Government. Males see education as irrelevant. They have an option of getting an early job [in police or army]. They don't see that education offers a lot of other things."

The reason, said Ms Mogahed, was that more good jobs were available for men at post-secondary school level, "whereas for women higher education opens up many attractive opportunities, as they are less likely to choose a career in uniform".

But Dr Ridge said that could be making problems for the future. Careers in uniform for many mean retiring at an early age, and without a degree some are not able to take another job.

"The problem is that they are short-term focused," she said. "This idea of seeing that education is a long-term investment is important. This has to be understood."

Dr Ridge has interviewed more than 300 men in higher education, most of whom went to British-style private schools.

Although her study is not complete, she has found boys from poorer families were more likely to drop out of higher education.

Dr Steven Cornish, the associate dean of the University College at Abu Dhabi University, said the trend for men to avoid tertiary education was repeated in other countries, including the US.

Dr Cornish said the role of women was changing more rapidly than that of men, especially in the UAE.

He suggested incentives for men to continue in education might work in the short term, and "with too many incentives, some may go in for the wrong reasons".

Dr Cornish said a more engaging classroom environment might encourage boys to stay in education.

"Males don't want a typical passive classroom, they want an interactive one," he said.

"Males are also competitive - give them a chance to be competitive." But Sebastian Rubens y Rojo, the head of special projects in the Abu Dhabi Education Council's office of strategic affairs, said although more women entered higher education, many did not enter the workforce.

Mr Rojo suggested early careers guidance could persuade boys that university would be of greater benefit to them than joining the police or army.

He said in-depth career guidance was vital "to help males understand that, yes, it would be giving up income, but it would also mean better career prospects".

Read the Progress and Tradition in the GCC States report here

osalem@thenational.ae