Access to education was extremely limited when the UAE was established in 1971. Since then, an enormous transformation has taken place and considerable investment has been made to cater for the educational needs of an ever-expanding population. Today, the UAE offers a comprehensive education to every male and female student from kindergarten to university, with education for the country’s citizens being provided free at all levels. There is also an extensive private education sector, while several thousand students, of both sexes, pursue courses of higher education abroad at government expense.
Much has been achieved, but there is a deep awareness that much more needs to be done. In line with UAE Vision 2021, education remains a top government priority and developing human capital is considered to be a key enabler in the country's efforts to establish a diversified knowledge-based economy. This focus on education is underpinned by a 21 per cent, or Dh9.8 billion, allocation in the 2014 federal budget. Dh6 billion of this is being spent on improving general education and Dh3.8 billion on academic excellence programmes in local universities.
To implement government policy, the UAE Ministry of Education (MOE) developed Education 2020, a series of ambitious five-year plans designed to bring significant qualitative improvement in the education system, especially in the way teachers teach and students learn. The MOE is introducing advanced education techniques in accordance with best practices, improving innovative skills and developing the self-learning abilities of students. These reforms focus on better preparation, greater accountability, higher standards and improved professionalism. Smart learning programmes, new teachers' codes and evaluations systems, as well as curriculum revision, including teaching maths and science through English, are all part of the strategy.
A teachers' charter sets out the principles of conduct in the classroom as well as outlining the moral and ethical role of teachers. It is a message for society that teachers are motivated and accountable. The charter has been distributed to schools and regular workshops were conducted to help teachers adopt the principles. In addition, under a school leadership programme, over 700 principals, vice principals and supervisors have been handpicked to enrol in a nine-month training programme that prepares them for proactive instructional leadership.
Overall, the ministry hopes to train 10,000 public school teachers within five years, whilst also pursuing its stated goal of reaching 90 per cent emiritisation of its staff by 2020. This will not only provide jobs for nationals, it will also assist in maintaining the culture and identity of the UAE.
Establishing an integrated e-learning platform in order to shape a new learning environment in government schools, as illustrated by the Mohammed bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme, is an essential part of government strategy. This project, which commenced in 2012, is being implemented by MOE and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and is overseen by the Office of the Prime Minister. The Dh1 billion programme is being introduced in four stages over five years, covering all government schools. The objective is to provide every student with a smart tablet and access to high-speed 4 G networks by 2017. In preparation, the ministry, in association with Etisalat, is equipping around 400 campuses with the latest 4G networks, e-boards and smart tablets, as well as providing e-content, including textbooks on iPhones, iPads and android platforms. Teachers will receive specialist training and new syllabuses will be developed.
To assist with relevant e-content, the ministry, in cooperation with Etisalat and Google, is developing a dedicated Arabic language tutorial channel on Youtube aimed at grade 11 and 12 students. The 600 tutorials on the Duroosi (my studies) channel, cover a variety of subjects, and are intended to assist students to learn at their own pace, at the same time reducing the need for costly private tuition.
Special needs students are catered for by the Department of Special Education, which was established in 2008 by the Ministry of Education. This department promotes the rights of students with special needs and ensures that they have access to the same educational opportunities as students in regular education. It has taken significant measures to integrate this category of students into 114 integrated education schools, which are equipped with a range of assistive technologies.
Sports and education for healthy lifestyles are not being neglected in the push towards educational excellence. The recently introduced School Olympic Games project is aimed at increasing participation in school sports activities whilst discovering and nurturing sports talents. The ultimate aim is to foster a new generation of Olympic athletes, promote Olympic knowledge and principles and raise awareness of the significance of physical training as a way to preserve good health.
In partnership with MOE, SEHA Ambulatory Health Services and du, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has also initiated a school health education project, aimed at increasing awareness of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in UAE students. This pilot project will run for one year in 18 government secondary schools across the UAE, with two in each of the emirates, Al Ain and the Western Region. The project addresses the challenges in delivering health education to students and promotes the use of active, participatory learning activities for developing knowledge, attitudes and skills so that student can make healthy choices. Focus group discussions with school nurses and data collected from the health authorities will determine health issues and behaviours, as well as the availability of capacities and resources in schools. Based on this, a manual for the delivery of health education workshops using a skill-based approach will be developed.
Whilst general strategy is determined by the Ministry of Education, education councils set up in individual emirates assist in implementing government policy. Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) develops education and educational institutions in Abu Dhabi; Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) is the primary driver of educational reform in Dubai, whilst Sharjah Education Council enhances the education sector in that emirate.
During the 2013–14 academic year, 305,000 male and female students attended 685 government schools throughout the UAE, whilst 605,000 students were enrolled in 489 private establishments.
Nationals can attend government tertiary-level colleges free of charge, and a rapidly increasing range of private institutions, including branches of internationally acclaimed higher-education institutions, supplement the public sector, making the UAE a very attractive place to study for thousands of students from neighbouring countries.
Ninety-five per cent of girls and 80 per cent of boys who complete their secondary education enrol in a higher education institution in the UAE or travel abroad to study under government-sponsored schemes and a key focus of education reforms has been to ensure that UAE students graduate from secondary school fully prepared to attend colleges and universities at home and abroad.
Significantly, Emirati women account for 71.6 per cent of students in government tertiary-level institutions and for 50.1 per cent of students in private higher education.
The Al Ain-based United Arab Emirates University continues to be the country’s flagship national institution of higher education, whilst Zayed University, which has campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, was established by the Federal Government to educate national women. The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), on the other hand, offer a more technically oriented education in well-equipped colleges spread throughout the United Arab Emirates. HCT, in conjunction with its commercial arm, the Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training prides itself on responding quickly and effectively to current needs in the regional and international workplace.
Masdar Institute, a graduate-level institution based in Abu Dhabi, is on the way to achieving its objective to become a regional and global model for research-intensive universities. Masdar Institute is located in the low-carbon Masdar City and research into clean energy and sustainability feature prominently in its curriculum.
Other notable institutions include Khalifa University of Science and Technology, the American Universities of Sharjah and Dubai, Sharjah University, the Ajman University of Science and Technology, Abu Dhabi University, Al Hosn University in Abu Dhabi, George Mason University in Ra's al-Khaimah. In addition, impressive new UAE-based campuses of international institutions such as Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and NYU Abu Dhabi have opened up in Abu Dhabi and Dubai International Academic City houses a wide variety of academic institution from many different countries.
The UAE also has several acclaimed business, vocational and technical educational centres for those seeking practical training in their chosen careers. For example, the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi prepares male and female students for work in the oil industry, whilst Etihad Academy and Emirates Aviation Academy train men and women for careers in the aviation industry. Etisalat Academy has been providing training and development solutions in business, technology and leadership for over 30 years, and Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management prepares graduates for careers in hospitality and tourism.
The debate is ongoing and educational development continues to be a focus of Government. Recently, having reviewed 65,000 suggestions from the public on how to improve the nation's education system at their annual retreat, the UAE Cabinet adopted a range of new measures. These included scrapping the preparatory year at university and developing subjects at secondary school level to match university requirements; making teaching a more attractive option, with career progression and incentives; establishing a licensing system, similar to that in western countries, for those who want to become teachers; instigating a new system for evaluating and ranking universities; introducing assessment of education performance at nurseries; and removing the requirement for students to choose between science and arts streams early in secondary school.