Since the time of Ibn Al Haytham, one of the greatest scientists of pre-modern times and a pioneer of optics, education has been valued in the Arab world. This emphasis on learning is reinforced by the high rate of investment in education across the region.
Currently, more than 20 per cent of all government expenditure in the Gulf is devoted to building new schools and to teaching and learning. However, within schools, colleges and universities, the focus remains on imparting knowledge rather than developing practical competencies. This emphasis fails to address the realities of the modern, working world. As a result, even though many skilled and semi-skilled jobs are available in Arab countries, lack of practical skills means unemployment among young people in the region is high. By introducing practical skills as a key part of a traditional education, Arab countries can give students the tools they need to realise their full potential and to succeed in the modern workplace.
The new focus on increasing employability skills is entirely possible without eroding the traditional values of scholarship and learning. The state, employers, teachers and students all have a role to play in bringing about this renaissance in practical learning.
The state needs to have the role of a learning enabler. By supporting a work-focused view of education and encouraging the development of transferrable skills, the state can promote the growth of a true job market where employers are able to access a pool of job-ready applicants.
Once workers possess relevant skills, the state will be able to divert funding away from welfare provision towards providing educational infrastructure, incentivising good practice and making educators more accountable. As a learning enabler, the state would engage with and not dictate to a wide range of stakeholders, encouraging industry to take the lead in developing work skills solutions. For the best of both worlds, employers must maintain continuous dialogue with educators. Involving employers on school panels and as school sponsors can give them an opportunity to establish a dialogue with educators and help shape the curriculum to meet workplace needs.
Employers can also help parents to get involved by encouraging ‘bring your child to work' schemes and by giving employees time to volunteer as school governors. Teachers must also develop a keen industry insight to help guide their students to an ever-changing world.
Linking teachers to employers by offering industry work experience can allow teachers to see what skills are required in key jobs. This, coupled with continuous professional development, will ensure that teachers are up to date on developments in the world outside the classroom and better placed to equip their students to meet its challenges. Students must have a new perspective on work and entrepreneurship.
Creating role models and developing entrepreneurial practices can open students' eyes to new opportunities. This could include establishing ‘young entrepreneur programmes' where students set up and run their own business for a year.
In addition, private-sector apprenticeships can show young people which skills are in demand among employers and provide students with an income as they learn.
The Arab states have a real opportunity to refocus educational reforms to empower learners, teachers and employers to take responsibility for developing vital work skills. Learning and enlightenment have long been associated with the Arab world but to succeed in the modern global labour market and be effective in the workplace, it's critical to have the ability to use and apply practical knowledge and skills.
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