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Many careers students will aim for in the future don’t exist as yet, and curricula need to prepare for that, says an expert.

Ozhan Toktas, Managing Director, Pearson Middle East, provides an overview of curriculums in the UAE and what parents should be looking for when planning their child’s schooling.

What are the different curricula offered in UAE schools?

Private schools in the UAE fall into two broad categories: those that follow the national curriculum prescribed by the UAE Ministry of Education, and those that follow an international curriculum.

There are approximately 700 schools in the UAE offering some sort of international curriculum, either outright, or alongside the MoE curriculum. The most popular types of international curriculum are UK, US and International Baccalaureate, followed by Indian/CBSE-curriculum schools, and then a smattering of non-Anglophone curricula such as French, German, Japanese, etc.

What are the distinguishing features of curricula?

Probably the most crucial distinguishing feature is the language of instruction. For example, in the UK and US curriculum schools, all lessons are taught in English, whereas in other schools, English is taught as a second language but much, if not all, of the rest of the curriculum will be delivered in a different language (e.g. Arabic, French, German).

The CBSE curriculum is offered in more than 24 different countries around the world. Lessons and textbooks correspond to the structure and patterns of various nationwide competitive exams. It has a high focus on skill development; not just on content.

The US, UK and IB curricula have much in common - they’re taught in English, they place emphasis on enquiry-based learning, and they focus on developing 21st-century skills alongside the acquisition of knowledge.

But there are some crucial differences. Perhaps the two biggest ones are the issue of endpoint high-stakes assessment, and the idea of breadth vs. depth.

The US system does not require students to sit high-stakes, externally marked assessments at their end of their study to achieve qualifications.

Learners instead emerge with a High School Diploma, with transcripts detailing their grade point average (GPA). As such, most US universities will require learners to take one or two standardised tests (e.g. the SAT or ACT).

What should parents look for when picking curricula?

1) Language of instruction:

Consider your preferred language of instruction, and where your child is likely to do their tertiary study - if indeed they will continue their studies at all.

2) Student-led learning vs rote learning:

Whether they’re heading to university or straight into employment, my advice would be to look for a curriculum that really values student-led learning over rote learning, and one where there is an emphasis on developing transferable skills such as problem solving, collaboration, leadership, creativity and so on. In fact, in a 2017 eSchool News study, 89 per cent of educators said it was very important or important for students to lead their own learning.

The acquisition of a core of knowledge is important - but in a job market increasingly dominated by automation, all research points to the fact that it is those ‘uniquely human’ skills that will be in most demand by the time your child is looking to thrive in the workplace.

3) School + degree = job:

This may also become outdated. Employers across the region and indeed the world report that graduates come to them without the required skills to succeed. Consider whether your child might find a faster, surer route to employment through vocational study.

Many of the careers your child will apply for simply don’t exist as yet.

According to Pearson Education’s report titled The Future of Skills, around one-tenth of the workforce are in occupations that are likely to grow as a percentage of the workforce. Around one-fifth are in occupations that will likely shrink. This latter figure is much lower than recent studies of automation have suggested. This means that roughly 7 in 10 people are currently in jobs where we simply cannot know for certain what will happen. However, our findings about skills suggest that occupation redesign coupled with workforce retraining could promote growth in these occupations.

It’s said so often it’s becoming cliché, but many of the careers your child will apply for simply don’t exist yet; AI is going to reshape the world of work as we know it. So, I would look for a curriculum (and a school) that emphasises the development of those skills and takes them seriously rather than a box that needs ticking.