This article originally appeared modified in the Khaleej Times.

At the UAE Education Public Policy Forum this past month, hosted by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government, the room voted in majority and sent the following message to the present Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Education:

  1. Public education quality should be the same as private education;
  2. It is the schools who are responsible for educating youths to fit the job market;
  3. The curriculum being taught is primarily to blame for students not being prepared for the workforce.

We live in a world where an Uber self-driving car will soon drive by us on highways. The innovation highway of the transportation sector should be on the same for education .

Here are the three moves that would immediately set education on the same disruptive lane of the transportation sector:

  1. Mandatory one-year civic service as a Dubai teacher for all Scholarship winners upon completion of studies.

We have a teaching crisis. The profession fails to attract our brightest local and global citizens. Teachers in the region are generally not respected, and are often undervalued. Sadly, many teachers can only teach their subject matter through the limited lenses of a text book and their own knowledge i.e. they are unable to blend learning with global issues and the outside world.

As a country we invest in our brightest, affording them the opportunity to travel abroad to the finest schools so that they are not only exposed to diversity but can also compete at global levels. What if, in return for paying for the very best opportunities for our brightest, we were to require that our locals fulfill a mandatory civic obligation of teaching for one year in Local Government schools. Also, what if we were to attract the brightest students globally by offering them educational scholarships in our country in exchange for mandatory teaching in the country for a limited time upon graduation.

Organizational Behavior 101 teaches us that the fastest way to change a culture is by bringing in new blood (diverse people and ideas) to the mix. This new dimension to the teaching profession would attract more well-educated stars to the profession, improve the overall quality of the education offered, and demonstrate to the world that we are  serious about competitively differentiating itself as a disruptive education player.

  1. Create an automated Competency Grid framework and feedback system between corporates and the Ministry of Education

There is no sustainable conversation taking place between the corporate sector and the Government on education. Surveys every few years do not work, and are not a sustainable way to deal with this misalignment between what the workforce needs and how we are educating students.

If I were the Government, I would set up a mandated Competency Grid framework that must be filled out by every company renewing its annual business license to operate in our country. The grid would require companies to identify the competencies needed in the workforce, as well as the gaps experienced. 

Twenty-first century skills needs will change every couple of years until 2100, so an automated system to get this feedback is needed for educators to keep iterating curriculum content. This simple mechanism would allow corporates to become active stakeholders in defining the content of education in a systematic manner. And the best part is that student employability will skyrocket.

  1. Require companies as part of their CSR initiatives to use their employees to teach 21st century skills to students

CSR spend is often a line item in the marketing or charitable budget, thus violating the true purpose of CSR, which is adding value to the communities in which the company operates.

What if the Government were to make a CSR recommendation for over the next 3 years that corporate CSR spend should be directed to educating youths with 21st century skills. Imagine if corporates had to adopt schools to deliver 21st century skills through their employees. Envision schools each semester planning, as part of their academic calendar, one week of immersion in 21st century skills training from the outside workforce in areas such as leadership, soft skills, design thinking, entrepreneurship, etc.

What this strategy does is redefine the role of corporates in education. Corporates will not have an issue with this, since their learning and development spend also will make more sense. All the research shows employees retain most when they teach what they have learned to someone else. Also, consider the rewards of students getting outside mentorship while learning skills from the actual workforce.


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