Usman Ghani (October 28, 2013)
UAE is currently working very hard and trying to come up with reforms and measures to improve the standards of its educations sector and serve its customers well. The question remains whether UAE is giving enough attention to the needs of improving the education sector and providing the customer’s value for the investment they are making. The continuous growth prospects and developing positive trends are making UAE a favorable hub for foreign investments and private organizations to enter the UAE education sector and improve the quality of education that is made available to its citizens.
UAE is looking into changing the dynamics of its economy to a diverse economy whose ability is not based on oil- profits, but sectors like education and healthcare, which lead to a more stable economy and prosperous growth without having to use the reserves of oil. Analyses of the education industry also show us the sector lacks innovation and critical thinking skills and requires more focus on the theory of knowledge.
There are multiple organizations and conferences that are being held in UAE to cater to the increasing demand of better education quality and soaring rates of unemployment. The government is trying its best to come up with reforms that focus on the needs of the customers and provide them complete satisfaction for the service of education that they want to invest in.
The seventh edition of Najah, Education, Training and careers fair is planning on focusing on the multiples issues of fresh graduates who fail to find employment in the UAE due to multiple reasons and how to provide them with better options of training and education opportunities so they can serve themselves and the businesses well. Students will be using this as a platform to hunt for better careers and training skills after finishing their high school so they are able to better secure their futures and gain exposure from the conference.
There are many foreign players who are also participating in this conference and wish to contribute their insight on the service of the education sector and how to improve it for all the Emiratis as well as the expats that are currently living in the UAE.
Many international parties, like Australia, Malaysia and the US, Japan was participating for the first time and had a lot to contribute towards the academic goals of UAE. Yuji Kawanto from the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) an organization that was representing the Japanese education said,
“We will host 10 to 15 universities from Japan that will use Najah as a platform to promote Japanese education and create awareness about our country’s premier universities and courses.”
JICE has been collaborating with the Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) to develop Japan as a source of education for the UAE nationals inside UAE.
KhurramSaeed, Najah exhibition director, said: “As the higher education sector continues to grow every year, the UAE is witnessing an increase in demand for private schools which impart quality education according to international standards. Najah provides a great opportunity for organizations to enter this dynamic market and capitalize on the growing education sector.”
Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research’s fourth education conference, with the name of The Future of Education In The UAE’, was held in Abu Dhabi and catered to discussing the problem of Emiratis graduates finding it challenging to get work in the private firms and the multiple reasons that lead to this trend.
Dr Abdulla Al Shaiba, head of specialist training at the UAE National Emergency Crisis and Management Authority, said that organizations thought Emirati third level education was massively based on theory and there was inadequate practical experience. AL Shaiba commented on the facts that between 13 to 14 percent of Emiratis are unemployed, which brings the total up to 35000 to 40000 people.
Fatima Al Shamsi, 25, put light on the issues that students face after they complete their education and the unsuccessful job hunting.
Fatima said; “When you’re a local, people think it’s easy for you to find a job, but that’s not the case. We’re expected to only be interested in work in certain fields. If you want to do something outside the box, it can be challenging to find work.”
The Fourth Education Conference held in September was based on the need of increasing privatization and higher education for the sake of the Emiratis. It circumference around the goals that better coordination and coherence was needed between the education system and the employment needs of UAE, in times of unemployment and changing demographics of increasing population.
Emirati academic Dr. Abdulla Al Shaiba said “There needs to be a national framework of skills embodied in the curriculum that are regulated by the Ministry of higher education and scientific research”.
He also added “The private sector needs to create around 20,000 jobs a year to cater to the 100,000 to 200,000 young Emiratis going in to the work force for in the next 10 years”
Importance of internships
Many issues were discussed that were focusing on how to increase levels of employment and improve the education sectors service to its citizens. Dr. David Guile, who was a researcher from the institute of education gave his insight at the conference as well and shared the importance of internships for young Emiratis and how that changes their experience and broadens their perspective so they can be better learners and have an understanding of practical experience and not just theory.
He said “Internships detach students from the academic work and the students see how to work with the employer’s feedback”
There have been many changes in the education industry of UAE in the last five years especially that have brought a lot of attention to the growing need of an improved education system. Emiratis seem very unhappy with the quality of education their children were receiving and as a result, lack of jobs in the private sector for the nationals of UAE and the private sector for the expats.
Decrease in public school enrollment
Globalization and awareness has led to parents becoming more aware of the education systems and quality of education that is being provided worldwide and can now compare it with their national school systems. Parents in UAE have become aware of the “customer” service that is provided in public school nationwide and have shown an inclination towards the private schools.
Program for International Student Assessment has ranked the public schools functioning within the GCC as the lowest operating public schools. Parents have now started to opt for sending their children to private schools instead of public schools, because they offer better quality of education, and hire more skilled and capable teachers than those in public schools.
These private schools also teach the curriculum in English which obviously opens more doors for students, giving them more options over students who have done their education purely in Arabic. Studying schools that provide high quality education and offer skilled teachers, also pave the way for the student to go into university level education, increasing their chances of securing higher chances of employment.
Private schools have gained more demand and value in UAE in the last few years, especially because of the number of expats growing and their demands to send their children to private schools. Public schools mostly have a cap for international students and more national student oriented, whereas private schools are better option for the expats because their children get to study international curriculums which give them more global knowledge and skills to compete around the world.
This growing need of foreign standard education has resulted in new international schools opening up in the GCC, which have international standards and teach their curriculum in English.
UAE has established itself as a region with the most private universities and is developing itself in the direction to better equip students with an international outlook. Majority of these universities are affiliated with universities abroad, so they can share their curriculum and provide students of UAE the same quality of education that is provided around the world.
UAE has seen a recent development of the use of technology in the education system to grow towards a strong and more equipped education system. UAE has lagged behind for many years due to lack of technology and innovation in their school systems but is now growing towards a brighter and more efficient education based future.
In a BETT Middle East exhibition in Abu Dhabi in 2012, the use of technology in education was discussed in great depth and the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was promoted for students, so they could have a better understanding of different subjects and more advanced learning methods as well.
Leading companies like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are also contributing towards working on the development of ICT in the education sector of GCC and bringing a change in the way technology is used in academics.
The number of students in UAE opting for international studies is on a rise, with a large number of students travelling to UK for higher education and a global exposure. The British Council has estimated a rise of 20 per cent of UAE students taking up education in the UK in the academic year 2013-2014.
Marc Jessel, the British Council’s country director for the UAE, said: “The preference for UK higher education has often been inherited by students from their parents and siblings. We are thrilled by this endorsement of the British system, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the world.”
UAE despite its constant efforts of improving the education sector and enhancing the service that is provided to both the Parent as well as the student, still fail to please many. The government and institutions have tried to take many measures and introduce reforms to improve the system, but still need to work harder.
Recently a three years old son’s mother wrote an article for the UAE newspaper complaining about the service provided in the educational service and how she was extremely disappointed by the poor service provided. The mother of this student commented on how she had applied to multiple schools for the admission of her son, and spent high amounts of money and didn’t know where it all went.
She went on about how she made the “runaround” for her son’s admission, and did not hear back about the admission of her son or get a refund for the money she had paid in multiple amounts of school. In her opinion if this would have happened in any other industry of the UAE it would have become a big scandal, but the education industry seems to get away with just about everything and have very little to answer about.
Following is an excerpt of how she described her case to a newspaper in UAE:
“Before I delve into the wider issues, here is a brief summary of my own experience (one I know that is being shared by thousands of parents across the country). When my son was less than a year old, in October 2010, I applied for him to join various schools in Dubai. The plan was he would start in September 2013, but given the high demand for places, I was told to apply many years in advance, and to several different schools.
Easy enough, except this comes with a catch: almost every private school in Dubai charges a registration fee, purely for the privilege of applying to join. The amount is often as high as AED500 (US$136). But regardless of whether you get a place or not, you never get this money back – it is, I was told, part of processing fee.
One of the schools I applied to is one of the most prestigious in Dubai, which has had nothing less than “outstanding” ratings by the KDHA. They told me back in October 2010 that I was one of the first parents to apply for a place and so had a good chance. They asked me for the AED500 in cash, which I handed over. I also handed over similar amounts to various other schools.
Nearly three years on, not a single of the schools I applied to has come back with an offer of a place. Not one has even bothered to tell me I don’t have a place. I rang the school above with the “outstanding” ratings last week, and after several emails and phone calls, eventually got through to the registrar.
“Ah yes, sorry, we only had 80 places this year and 70 of those went to siblings, so you didn’t get a place,” she told me.
Was the school ever going to bother letting me know, I asked?
“No,” she said. “We only tell you if you have a place.”
Strange I wasn’t told this in October 2010 when the school was only too happy to take my cash. But given the school has not even bothered to email me once, and it appears I never had chance of a place there, what was my AED500 spent on?
“So I can answer the phone to you,” the school told me, before adding: “Wages have to be paid.”
This is a clear example of poor customer service where parents are supposed to wait endlessly to find out whether their child has been enrolled in a school program or not. Schools need to have proper admission processes that are standardized across the UAE to inform parents whether their child has been granted an admission or not.
If they are planning on charging a fixed amount of fee to process an application, then the application fee must include, catering to the questions of the parents whenever they call, guiding them for other options that they can use to get their child enrolled, even if its elsewhere and of course sending at least a letter to inform that the child was not given the admission.
To hang on to the money as well as not providing the parents with adequate information is extremely poor service and lack of customer concern.
The mother of the 3 year old student also added saying:
“Really? Is that what we have come to? A school in the UAE, in 2013, charges AED500 to answer the phone? What incredible arrogance. Who do these people really think they are? Estate agents?
Let’s say, for example, that 500 other parents applied for a place without success? That would equate to a staggering AED250, 000 (US$68,000) for doing absolutely nothing. Oh, sorry, for answering the phone.
How much are private schools making across the UAE by charging these fees? I know for a fact that 3many schools have literally hundreds of children on the waiting list, having collected AED500 from each one. The figures could run into millions of dollars each year.
I have spoken to many other parents and many have forked out around AED2, 500 in application fees – and most have been unsuccessful in getting any place. We have been told that most places are already taken by companies, preference given to siblings, or anyone with good connections. Did you send your kid to a nursery also owned by the same school? If not, tough luck, thanks for the cash.”
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