The GCC countries have seen an unprecedented explosion in economic growth in the past few decades. That growth has been matched by a similar increase in population in recent years, helped in some GCC countries by state subsidies paid out to parents of each newborn.
However, what are state and public institutions doing to prepare these children of today into becoming capable citizens of tomorrow? The common complaint floating around various GCC states is that the nationals lack the necessary fundamental skills to compete effectively in the marketplace, thus opening the door for an imported workforce.
Are our government-run public schools providing the proper foundation to turn graduates into effective citizens? Or will we continue to depend on having to bring expertise in from abroad? This is often the question asked by parents and potential employers after 12 long years of institutionalised study.
What then are the skills most parents would want their children to acquire after the long years at school; skills that would prepare them to ably take care of themselves independently and function efficiently as adults? Here’s a list of the leading contenders:
Language skills: Besides Arabic, most parents would like their children to have fluency in one or two other languages. Although English is today the preferred option with most parents, other languages can be encouraged as well. Mastering a foreign language opens new worlds.
Cognitive and critical thinking skills: These are virtually absent throughout school years as our students are not encouraged to think and speak out their views. The curriculum by and large favours the rote method of learning with one-way communication between teacher and pupil. Graduates without cognitive skills are often unable to demonstrate basic common sense.
Appreciation of the arts: Be it drama, painting or music, such skills encourage the brain to expand in its absorption of the beauty around it and defeats narrow perspectives often observed in people without an inkling of the Arts.
Time management: Defined as ‘the process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity,’ it is a factor that is sorely lacking in our society.
Budgetary training and fiscal responsibility: Money does not grow on trees, right? Try telling that to your school children. They need a reality check with some instructional training and workshops on money management.
Information technology: Many of today’s school children know how to use a PC to chat or watch video clips, very few are adept at using programmes such as word processors, spreadsheets, search engines and various other analytical programmes. The skills acquired would go a long way in their professional lives.
Driver’s education/training: This could be started during the last two years of high school and acquaint future motorists with laws and proper driving methods. Besides classroom training, there could also be driving tracks or courses for preparing children for actual road experience.
Auto shop: Along the same vein, students must be required to attend auto workshops to learn basic vehicle maintenance such as tyre and oil change, battery replacement etc. Such knowledge would also encourage some of them to place value on their future machines.
Home maintenance: Workshops at schools can be designed to help students with simple household maintenance such as fixing a leaky pipe, replacing a burnt lamp or socket, or painting a room. Self sufficiency in such skills will place a lot of charlatans out of work.
General knowledge: Woefully inadequate as most educators would attest to. Children who can show adequate general knowledge about the world around them prove to be confident adults. They can easily connect and answer questions on most topics. So why not hold intra-school competitions on general knowledge and get their minds working and buzzing?
CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and first aid: Insignificant as it may appear, such skills have been known to save lives. Rather than stuffing some unproductive courses down the minds of unwilling students, why not teach them practical methods on how to intervene during emergencies and lend a qualified hand.
Inter-personal skills: Since our curriculum in the past depended primarily on the rote method, it stifled critical thinking and along with it inter-personal skills. These social skills are the life skills we use every day to communicate and interact with other people, individually or in groups. Such an ability could be fostered through debates, workshops and task oriented projects.
Physical education: This is a required subject in most curriculums of the developed world. Kicking an odd ball around school grounds without any structured athletic programme is not enough. Where will our future Olympians come from?
Discipline: Although discipline begins at home, it must also be reinforced at school. Parents and educators must together promote an atmosphere of discipline and self-control, as society needs structure to function.
Human rights: Children must be taught at an early age to understand and respect the fundamental rights that exist for all human beings. They must be made to understand that abuse should not be tolerated.
This wish list may not necessarily include all supplements for a better citizen, but it could be a step in that direction.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.