Higher Education in UAE and Egypt Taking a Wrong Turn?

Over in the UAE, “Universities have taken wrong turn, scholar says.”

Dr Mick Randall complains, in the article, that the higher-ed system has become overly commercialized and too attuned to apparent market “demands.” Humanities-type programs (he notes that Arabic and Islamic studies make up only 2 percent of course offerings) have taken a way-back seat to business (26 percent), engineering (17 percent) and IT (10 percent).

I don’t think this sort of short-sighted approach even serves the market, much less the society and the individual humans.

This follows a week-long debate over UAE education systems, and the role of English vs. Arabic.*

Meanwhile, over at EdArabia, they note that—for a quarter of the population—it doesn’t matter what sort of improvements are made to university systems, as “25% of Emiratis drop out of school after second year” of high school.

Dr Fatma Al Merri, CEO of the Dubai School Agency, Knowledge and Human Development Authority, pointed to both social and financial issues. “Continuous absences, correctional discipline and lack of supervision in certain schools are some of the reasons why students drop out.”

There’s the need for a stick, sure. I’d also hope to see the carrot of more interesting, relevant, mind-broadening learning. (Although maybe a donkey-cart metaphor works better in Egypt than in the fast-moving UAE.)

In Egypt, it’s not so much a question of just one wrong turn, Al Masry Al Youm writes in “Poor education squeezes growth.” (Also, a market-based view!) Here, tests have started asking questions that demand critical thinking while students are still trained on rote memorization. The combination has been very hard on test-taking students.

It’s worth noting that Egypt’s new private universities display many of the same wrong-turn issues as their UAE counterparts: brushing aside humanities, linguistics, and social sciences in favor of a short-sighted focus on marketing, business, engineering and IT.

However, there’s at least some good news from Sharjah, where there’s an “Initiative to help instil green values in school.” From Gulf News.

Also, in Qatar, children in conflict zones get help telling their stories: Bloomsbury shapes young writers.

And the Silliest News from America: Parents Giving up on…Picture Books?

A story in the NYTimes indicates that many U.S. parents are pushing children (as young as four!) into chapter books, because apparently picture books are too babyish and won’t help your child get into Harvard. This, to me (and many of the experts quoted), seems like utter foolishness. My seven-year-old can read and enjoy long books; he also still loves picture books. A large number of adults also enjoy “picture books,” as the popularity of graphic novels shows.

If you need some evidence of how great picture books can be, check out the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature longlist or the Anna Lindh Foundation “honor list.”

And, thank goodness, not all Americans have jumped on this bandwagon. At least one writer, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says: “Let your kids look at picture books! Stop pushing chapter books so early!”

*Of course, I am part of the problem by writing in English. But ISA the next generation will surpass me.

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