As the UAE marks the Year of Tolerance it is appropriate to take stock of the future of education in the United Arab Emirates and the global skills we need to develop the next generation. The late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, was well ahead of his time, not least because he understood the value of tolerance, endeavour and human capacity.
On the wealth of the nation, he stated: “Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies, the power we value.” He understood the real spirit behind progress: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities.”
It is in this spirit that education leaders need to shape the future for our schools. Globally, the focus in recent times has been an obsession with assessment, which has led to narrow national curriculums and inspection frameworks that give little credence to the values, which Shaikh Zayed held so dear. Don’t get me wrong: academic assessment remains a key measure, as does progress and the use of data in all its forms to inform learning and teaching. However, this must be balanced with equal weighting given to the soft skills, to values which in themselves are often difficult to measure and yet intrinsic to our personal development.
We care about values education in the broadest sense and seek to encourage students to grow and develop their personal and interpersonal qualities.
It concerns me that subjects such as humanities and modern foreign languages, which build global citizenship skills; fine and performing arts, which build creative and collaborative skills; and sport, which build teamwork and tolerance, are barely considered in the current assessment standards. The pressure on attainment in core subjects often leads to a dilution of the breadth of curriculum: schools are faced with tough choices and too often activities which build teamwork, collaboration, interpersonal and other global skills are reduced, to the detriment of holistic education and increasingly, to the detriment of student well-being.
In a world of artificial intelligence, it has never been more important to ensure that we re-establish the value of subjects and activities that develop the ‘human spirit’, the ‘real spirit’ as defined by Shaikh Zayed. It is vital that the balance of our overall school curriculums provide our youngsters with a breadth of development well beyond the cognitive and problem solving skills needed to cope in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And for this reason, we have also gone well beyond the traditional personal development programmes such as ‘Personal, Social and Health Education’, even extending on the recent introduction of Moral Education into schools throughout the UAE.
We care about values education in the broadest sense and seek to encourage students to grow and develop their personal and interpersonal qualities. We also value partnership with parents: children learn best when there is close collaboration between home and school on similar core values. Of particular importance is the development of values in the home, a number of which fall under the core value of kindness. Therefore, we have developed Jewels of Kindness as a means of encouraging children to think about being kind (respectful, empathetic, helpful and compassionate are all kind qualities) to their parents, grandparents and siblings. From the home, in partnership with school, children learn to extend such values to society.
The late Shaikh Zayed established the values of tolerance and respect which we hold so dear in the UAE, stating “To treat every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul, is a mark of Islam.”
In this Year of Tolerance, it has never been more important to hold dear the true values of society — and we continue to do all we can to foster and develop these in values education programmes.
Brendan Law is vice-president of British Cluster Lead — GEMS Education.