By Prof. Abdul Rahim Sabouni, President of Emirates College of Technology
The education system of the UAE has undergone monumental changes over the past 50 years. Gradually, over the years, the pedagogy system in the country evolved when the Emirates started building a modern, mass-scale education system. Changes in the political system have enabled the UAE to create a public and private education system akin to that in the West within just a few decades.
Progression in the educational field has been rapid, with the country’s adult literacy rate jumping from 54 percent among men and 31 percent among women in 1975 to close to 95 percent for both genders in today’s times.
Diversity in education
It is common knowledge that the climate and culture of the educational institution has a direct impact on student success. Thus it is particularly important for the university culture to reflect, acknowledge and embrace diversity. In a multicultural country like the UAE, this is an important consideration while designing a curriculum and integrating technologies for student learning.
Diversity as an idea is not a simple concept. Most universities have to recognize the subtle differences that appear in broad racial and ethnic groups; as there is diversity within these groups as well. For example, Chinese and Korean students may share similar cultural characteristics, but may also have their own distinct and separate cultural mannerisms and characteristics that differ vastly from each other. Same is true for Indian and Pakistani students. Therefore in the interest of embracing diversity and giving students access to a curriculum that is fine-tuned to cater to all racial groups; teachers and administrators must recognize the uniqueness and individuality of their students.
Teachers have a particular responsibility to structure their lessons and teaching methods to reflect student differences. This, in turn, encourages individuality and the appreciation of a diverse educational population and brings a sense of connection between disparate cultural heritages within a single university’s culture. To facilitate the overall process of learning, teachers have the responsibility to build upon the culture blocks that students already possess. This is often termed as scaffolding, which loosely translated, simply means to recognize a student’s cultural background and use it as a basis of developing a deeper understanding for new learning and for designing a safe classroom environment.
Linking diversity in education to the workforce of the future
We are living in a global society. The world is fast shrinking due to the expansion of technology parameters that have invaded our lives on every level. Research has proved that students who are exposed to diversity and inclusion in the classroom are better able to improve their critical thinking skills; a crucial element needed for the workforce of the future. Such students gain experiences from intercultural interactions that enable them to compete in the 21st-century global economy. Universities are increasingly implementing strategies that introduce a diverse curriculum for learning, based on the development of new technological skills and soft skills needed in today's dynamic labor market.
For example, Emirates College of Technology, one of UAE’s oldest and most prestigious universities accredited for quality higher education in Abu Dhabi, have infused a diverse curriculum supporting various academic programs; in order to build a foundation committed to developing the full academic potential of every student.
To that end, all universities must allow opportunities for the faculty to create an inclusive classroom, critical to creating an inclusion breakthrough. In higher education, technologies play an essential part in promoting an environment of ‘learning without borders’; building communities in the classroom and then expanding these communities beyond classrooms through collaborative activities.
How students benefit
Diversity in the classroom also leads way to diversity in thinking. Investing in skills establishes and fosters diversity. A research states that five years from now, 35 percent of skills considered important in today’s workforce would have altered. Having a diverse classroom composed of a multicultural setting not only gives rise to increased collaboration and complex problem solving but is also the enabler of a workforce that thrives on innovation and encourages employees to think differently.
Innovation methodologies like design thinking ensure that growing these skills is not a challenge. Many universities across UAE are incorporating design thinking, a form of education teaching students to deal with real-world problems; and a key aspect of design thinking stems from ‘learning beyond borders’, making it essential. At ECT, students are not only graded but are recognized for various contributions to their course mates that they bring along inherently as part of their unique cultures and nationalities.
Traditional approaches to education are fast evolving premised on the fact that the world is globally connected and technologies play a part in the process of innovation spreading and growing worldwide. Thus universities and graduate schools across the globe are beginning to incorporate the latest methods of teaching catering to students enabling them to make use of their unique experiences to realize a more learner-centric education system.