A knowledge-based society is pivotal for the sustainable growth of our economy. Dr. Asmaa Al-Fadala Director of Research at the Qatar-based World Innovation Summit for Education stressed the role that education plays in economic development. According to Dr. Al-Fadala effective science, technology, engineering and mathematics education are vital for the future sustainable economic and social growth of the GCC countries. “Successful diversification depends on education systems that equip students with the transferable skills and all attributes to become the rounded, globally competitive citizens needed to attain the new goal of thriving knowledge economies,” she said. This raises questions about our Saudi schools.
- Are we preparing graduates to cater to the needs of companies that require the solid, highly skilled, globally aware, knowledge-based workforce needed in this highly competitive world of business and industry?
- Have our schools instilled in our graduates the work ethics and the moral character needed in the business world?
- Has our focus on religious studies, history, literature, geography and other not very useful subjects lessened the impact of our education system?
We have to answer all these questions and ask ourselves whether we want to have a nation of scientists or clerks! According to statistics from the World Economic Forum, the GCC countries collectively have one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. To my mind the reasons for this include the apathy of young people and their lack of work ethics in addition to their inability to master the job descriptions required by the private sector. How then can we guarantee our nation’s future prosperity without our students having the relevant skills needed for employment? But let us make it clear that we cannot blame the students. For years we have been discussing the issue of untrained and unmotivated teachers, ill-equipped schools, a lack of educational clarity and a system that does not encourage excellence. A thorough change is needed, but despite a huge budget, changes in the education field move at a snail’s pace. Therefore, it is important that our overhaul of the educational system be done with the cooperation and understanding of all stakeholders, educators, parents, students and global companies. We should also listen seriously to the words of Gulf educationist Dr. Asmaa Al-Fadala’s when she says that “society at large must embrace a shift in outlook that understands the vital link between economic opportunities and improved educational systems and classroom practice.” Until we do that, we will still be at the bottom of the table of educational standards.