Dubai: When it comes to quality of education, over half the students in the UAE believe theirs is better than that available in Western countries, a survey showed.
That confidence in their education system was shown in a poll aimed to show the strengths and weaknesses of educational systems in the Gulf, by gathering the views of 1,300 students from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
Conducted by management consulting firm Booz & Co, it showed 57 per cent of students in the UAE believe their education system is “a little better or much better” than that available in Western countries.
The high percentage of student satisfaction with education in the UAE was based on several factors, including their trust in educational leaders, their satisfaction with English teaching in schools, and their positive views of public schools.
The survey showed that 72 per cent of UAE students “somewhat or completely trust” their education leaders showing a high level of confidence in the education provided in the country.
In the area of English teaching in schools, 54 per cent of students in the UAE said that they were satisfied, ranking in the middle between Kuwait (72 per cent) , and Saudi Arabia (17 per cent).
In sharp contrast with other countries, public schools in the UAE were also viewed more positively than local or international private school types, specifically in the areas of relational trust, competency of fixed curriculum, and infrastructure.
Research also showed that nearly one in five (18 per cent) of UAE students wish to obtain a doctoral degree, and 34 per cent would prefer to work in the public sector, against 32 per cent who want to work in international private companies in the future.
The UAE respondents were the most optimistic of the lot in the midst of job creation challenges that beset many Gulf countries. With half of the Middle East’s population under the age of 25, and a quarter of those between 15 and 24 currently unemployed, the region faces an urgent need to improve employment levels and job options through the development of school systems.
Areas that require change
Aiming to use good policy and effective methods to improve the education system, experts said that involving students in the educational reform process is essential.
“Research shows that student engagement improves student-teacher relationships, practices and procedures, policies, laws, and culture. Moreover, more students “buying in” and trusting in the reform process is critical for reforms to succeed,” said Mounira Jamjoom, a Senior Research Specialist at the Ideation Centre, Booz & Co’s think tank in the Middle East.
Looking at areas students would like to change in the educational system, the survey showed that 42 per cent of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) students want learning to be more fun and enjoyable, 36 per cent want a change in teaching methods, and 28 per cent want an increase in technology in classrooms.
Overall, a lack of well-trained teachers, outdated teaching methods, curricula that are neither relevant nor innovative, limited use of technology in the classroom, and little in the way of academic advice or career counselling are factors contributing to the mismatch between the outputs of the GCC’s education system and the needs of the employment market.
“While most GCC governments are aware of the problem and have made “human capital development” core to their policy agendas, problems still persist with the quality and relevance of GCC education,” explained Laila Hoteit, a Principal with Booz & Company. “The underlying difficulty remains a gap between the skills that businesses need and what young people learn in schools,” she added.
A recent research by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the role of education showed that simply pouring resources into the education system is not enough to guarantee results. In order to ensure education reform success, it is important to understand where or how well these investments are being made across various educational channels.
This is especially important today as the number of GCC students is expected to grow from 9.5 million in 2010 to an estimated 11.3 million in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.8 per cent, with tertiary students witnessing the highest growth during this period at a CAGR of 5.5 per cent.