I was not driven by a passion for agriculture to present this example. Such discussions are actually taking place among education experts, parents, education officials and even senior government officials. However, education will always be governed by its objectives, which assimilate its practical values, no matter how much arguments, around it, diverge.
The debate on development of education has engaged Emiratis for the past few years, starting from the state’s leaders, education officials and executives to elite intellectuals, commentators and opinion makers. The government development plans have set a major goal of transforming to a knowledge-based economy in two decades and education is the key tool for this transformation. The development of education has been accompanied by two main objectives: the curricula are to meet the market’s demand. In addition, another related or complementary goal is to encourage the majority of students towards the scientific disciplines needed to build a knowledge-based economy.
Many ideas and perspective about the development of education, which are certainly endless, have been proposed. Among all of which, some steps seem to be essential and crucial to any educational development regardless the governance of the process. Here are some of the most important elements that I believe they are indispensable in the long-term development of education:
- Developing Teachers: It seems as if we ask which to come first: developing education or developing teachers? Well, it is quite clear that if we develop curricula in a qualitative and advanced manner, qualified teachers will be needed to deliver them in the best possible way to students in schools. Imagine that we have a space shuttle and its captain has a car-driving license! We cannot develop education without developing teachers, and the question of which comes first is senseless in my opinion, because developing teachers is of a very high priority. Having highly qualified teachers, we can guarantee the educational development plans will be executed by professionals.
Unfortunately, developing of teachers’ performance is mostly linked, even for teachers themselves, with increments in salaries. Well, this is certainly required. I even think that teachers' salaries must be relatively high, compared to other jobs. However, this should be associated with high performance, maximum effort and skills of teachers, in addition to obvious qualitative outcomes. In countries like Finland, with the world’s best educational system, only those who have master's degree or higher, educational qualification and professional merit, can be accepted in teaching career. If we consider this as the class of teachers we seek, then it requires personal efforts of teacher’s prior state’s motivation.
- Focusing on the Skills: this is the most repeated element as long as it is about education’s development. However, the question is: how? Current teaching methods varies from spoon feeding to activities that are intended to provide knowledge in a slightly different format which depends on motivating students’ thinking. Despite the disparate experiences in the same country between public schools and some private schools, the predominant characteristics of teaching methods are "spoon feeding" and "memorization and recitation", which created a psychological phenomenon at every home: "examination phobia". Besides, the phenomenon of private tuitions as parallel education has also occurred.
Focusing on skills requires focusing on building an analyzing mindset, which is a mindset that has the skills of asking necessary questions, searching, verifying information, linking facts and inferring. This, consequently, requires a radical change in the education’s approach, which can be achieved by emulating experiences of other countries such as Japan and Finland with educational systems that has no exams in the first and second grades as they focus on teaching young people the skills.
Such a goal requires a change in teaching methods in day-to-day basis. These methods must rely primarily on "dialogue and interaction" between teachers and pupils rather than "spoon feeding, memorization and recitation". Besides, students should be involved in the experience of learning and gaining knowledge. Developing analyzing skills needs more than just memorizing subjects. It is certain that the generalization of a skills-based teaching and learning system will terminate the "memorization and recitation" approach and will stop the two most counteracting phenomena to the development of education: "private tuitions" and "examophobia".
- Researches are the Substantial Learning Tool: Aspiring to a skills-based system that leads to qualified graduates to build a knowledge-based economy requires that research becomes a learning, not a spoon-feeding, tool. That is, students must acquire information through research, not feeding or simply reading a textbook. Hence, students must be trained at early ages on the techniques of scientific research, its tools and methodologies. The best way to consolidate the information in students’ minds is to let them find it by themselves, which means that we have to teach them the tools that will lead them to information.
Research has been a core element of the education curricula in the Gulf countries since 1980s at least but sorrowfully, as private tutoring, it has become a bookshops’ business that students and their parents buy just to accumulate marks. The biggest problem is that teachers and schools accept such researches despite of their awareness that students did not do them and they were carried out carelessly by a bookshop or even by a parent.
- Teaching the Technology has become a Necessity: It is not sufficient anymore to teach students the basics of operating computers or learning through them, it is substantial now to teach them how to program. This might appear a small step but it is essential to graduate students with high skills who can be depended upon to build a knowledge-based economy.
- Humanities must not be Neglected: As some careers like medicine, engineering, banking and others are of high demand and because of the fanciful thoughts of eighties, many people thinks that study of humanities is a waste of time and has no future. However, the need for humanities will remain necessary to maintain societies capable of understanding their problems and realities and to humanize development and its trends in general.
- Comprehensive Competitions between Schools and Universities: Students of schools and universities of the country must compete comprehensively in all fields and disciplines such as science and innovation of all kinds, humanities, languages (with more emphasis on Arabic language), drama and sports’ competitions in the form of periodic leagues in all games among universities and schools. Schools and universities look like isolated islands with no connections. Creating frameworks for competitions between schools and universities is not only about discovering talents, it is also the most effective way to give students qualities that they will need in future like the ability to compete. From another perspective, when those competitions turn into a nationwide event, schools and universities will be an essential part of public. Imagine how competitions of this kind could contribute to the dissemination of knowledge at the national level to hundreds of thousands of students. We can imagine how competitions of this kind could contribute to the dissemination of knowledge at the national level among hundreds of thousands of students.
- Do not Leave Anyone Behind: Most countries have deployed educational systems that are based on isolating gifted and talented students in schools dedicated for those who show higher level of intelligence in their lessons. Later, some educators have criticized this system for practicing sort of discrimination on students, as isolating gifted and clever students may result in providing this category with extra attention and deal with others normally or consider them useless. This has contributed to the abandonment of gifted students’ schools in more than one country. However, the high demand for high skills in today's markets. Besides the ambitions to build more and more knowledge-based economies rather than commodity production. In addition to the education’s development plans, all these factors have reinforced the belief in the necessity of focusing on the talented and intelligent students in schools. This has been translated into more than one format, whether through special activities clubs such as scientific clubs, contests or other frames.
Another aspect of the topic is the "dropouts". In all stages of education, there are dropouts for one reason or another. Legislation has made education mandatory mostly until the middle school stage, dropouts or those who have stopped at high school still need to develop their abilities, knowledge and skills. Hence, there is a need for education and training programs in all areas beyond the existing vocational training programs in most countries. The principle here is to make education continuous and open.