Panel Day 2
Mohana Kelkar, Head of Admissions, Global Indian International School; Paul Ryan, Head of Secondary, Hartland and Ritika Anand, Principal, Deira Private School during a panel discussion on ‘Getting Career Ready in High School’ on the second day of Gulf News Edufair Schools & Nurseries Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

High schools in the UAE are taking proactive steps to prepare students for successful transitions from education to the workforce. Recognising the importance of identifying individual interests and developing a wide range of skills, schools are equipping students with the tools and resources needed to thrive in their chosen careers. Through initiatives such as internships, work placements, and guidance in college applications, schools are ensuring that students are well-prepared to make informed decisions about their future.

In a recent panel discussion on 'Getting Career Ready in High School', Mohana Kelkar, Head of Admissions at Global Indian International School; Paul Ryan, Head of Secondary at Hartland; and Ritika Anand, Principal of Deira Private School, highlighted that one of the key aspects of preparing students for future success is helping them develop skills essential for the workforce. The panel discussion was part of the second day of Gulf News Edufair Schools & Nurseries, which took place at Villa Rotana on Sheikh Zayed Road with leading educational institutions from across the country. More than 500 parents attended the event.

High schools are focusing not only on academic skills but also on non-academic skills such as communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving. By fostering these skills, schools are ensuring that students are equipped to succeed in a variety of careers.

“Today, the skills needed are quite different from before,” says Kelkar. “Communication skills are crucial, as we see how important communication is in our current times. Additionally, students need to be AI-ready, as robotics and critical thinking skills are becoming more important. Research skills are also vital. These are some of the skills we are focusing on. For those who may not pursue robotics or AI, schools are now training students not only in traditional STEM subjects but also in a broader range of technology-related skills or subjects.”

Ryan says Covid challenged some of the orthodoxies around what schools thought they were doing, leading to positive changes in practice. He emphasises that disruptive technology, such as AI, may not change the careers children pursue but will transform how they carry out those careers. “Focusing on transferable skills and the capacity for future learning is more important now than ever,” says Ryan. “Knowledge and experience remain fundamental, but the idea of transferable skills in a disruptive work community is key.”

Regarding the challenge of finding the balance between traditional subjects and preparing students with the latest innovations, Ryan says, until now, it has been relatively simple, as schools were ahead of children in terms of technology. However, children are often more technologically advanced than us, which presents a new challenge. “We need to think deeply about how AI will transform aspects of schooling, like relying on externally completed assessments,” he adds. “The use of AI in education raises questions about the validity of external assessments, as it can be challenging to detect if work has been authored by an individual. So, there's an interesting tension and opportunity to explore.”

In addition to practical experience, high schools are helping students build a portfolio of skills and attributes that will make them attractive to employers. This includes not just academic achievements but also extracurricular activities, community service, and leadership roles. By encouraging students to develop a well-rounded portfolio, schools are preparing them for success in the competitive job market.

“It's important for both schools and parents to ensure that students are aware of the skills they need,” says Anand. “In Dubai, with its large expat population, parents have different experiences and expectations regarding education. Schools must focus on developing holistic personalities in students from a young age. Soft skills like resilience, communication, collaboration, and financial literacy are crucial for their future success. Schools need to keep track of these changes and provide the facilities to make students successful.”

Regarding the pressure from parents and students to pursue certain career paths, Anand explains that pressure can come from both parents and students themselves, especially in a competitive place like Dubai. It's important to have counseling sessions for both parents and students, as some may not have a plan B or C. “Schools must guide students from an early age, providing opportunities for them to explore different professions and build a portfolio,” she says. “The focus is on giving students an edge through extracurricular activities and a strong emotional framework.”

Ryan stresses that career planning and university guidance should start earlier, even as early as age 13 or 14. “We have weekly sessions where someone from industry talks about their career path,” he says. “We also use software platforms that help students identify potential career pathways based on their interests. We must also focus on character building through extracurricular activities and the ethos of the school.”

Another important aspect of career readiness is providing students with mentorship, work placements, or internships. Many high schools in the UAE offer internship and work placement programs that allow students to gain hands-on experience in their chosen field. These programs not only provide valuable experience but also help students build professional networks that can be beneficial in their future careers.

“It is crucial for students to have internship opportunities and to interact with families and students who may be unaware of subject choices or internship opportunities, or who are considering a global role in the future,” says Kelkar. “They often come to us seeking advice, saying, 'My friend has chosen this path, and I would like to avoid it,' or 'maybe it's popular right now, but I'm not sure.' It is our responsibility to educate them, guide them, and encourage them to spend their summer holidays more productively, engaging in tangible opportunities for three to four weeks.”