Call to tackle Middle East education 'crisis'
09 Oct 2010
The Education Project conference in Bahrain has opened with a plea for urgent reform to tackle the educational ‘crisis’ in the Middle East.
The conference heard that failure to do so would risk the dangers of high unemployment and social unrest in the region, which would affect the rest of the world.
Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said there was a ‘mismatch’ between the skills that young people have and the needs of employment.
He said reform was needed because countries in the Gulf had to prepare for what happens when the oil runs out. ‘While we have abundant natural resources we need to diversify. as the only sustainable future is a highly educated population’, he said.
In the same debate, Dr Bassem Awadallah, CEO of Tomoh Advisory, from the United Arab Emirates, issued a wake-up call for countries in the Middle East.
He said that while some countries in the Middle East and North Africa ‘have realised the extent of the crisis’ there were still many that ‘are still in denial and want to keep their society closed. They must ask which is more dangerous: lack of educational reform or continuing high levels of unemployment and social instability’.
The conference was told that reform was particularly urgent in the Gulf because the population is growing faster than in most parts of the world, and it also has a very high proportion of under-25‘s. As Dr. Awadallah said: ‘we have a crisis in our system’.
However, there was disagreement about the direction education reform should take. Some speakers from the developed world urged ‘transformational’ learning, geared to the needs of the ‘internet generation’, with a focus more on developing skills than on the traditional sets of knowledge.
But others said you could not export education systems from the developed to the developing world. Charles Leadbeater, author of Learning from Extremes, said what was applicable in one part of the world was not necessarily useful in another.
He criticised the trend which had led to people all over the world to adopt national strategies which were often not relevant to their students. As he put it: ‘The idea that a national curriculum in Kenya is applicable for kids in a slum <is wrong>...when what they most need to learn is how not to become HIV positive.’