As Abu Dhabi moves to diversify its economy and develop knowledge-based industries that are reliant on a highly trained workforce, education stakeholders have moved to begin career development at the secondary school level. Local English-language daily The National reported in March 2015 that the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) adopted a modified curriculum for grades 10 and 11, emphasising science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. These reforms are expected to significantly improve both post-secondary enrolment in STEM programmes and the size and availability of a STEM-ready workforce, while a new agreement between ADEC and Abu Dhabi-based investment and development company Mubadala Development Company will further support alignment of education policy and labour market requirements.
In January 2015 ADEC organised a forum entitled “Shaping the Future” during which the council discussed reform priorities with 1350 educators across the emirate. Improvements to STEM education at the K-12 level ranked high among the majority of participants. Previously, secondary school students chose either a science or humanities track in grade 11, with 79% of students choosing humanities in 2014. According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR), this is reflected at the post-secondary level, with figures reporting that during the 2013/14 academic year, post-secondary enrolment in STEM disciplines stood at 17,906, representing just 34.8% of the total.
In March 2015 ADEC announced that its reforms to secondary school curricula would entail adopting a unified approach that emphasises STEM subjects. This focus is meant to adjust the national curriculum in response to the demands of the labour market. For example, according to a June 2015 press release, Emirates Global Aluminium, part-owned by Mubadala Development Company, employs over 7000 workers and requires 85% of their employees to have technical skills that can only be learned in STEM classes.
Under the reforms, STEM courses will comprise roughly 50% of the curriculum at government-funded Cycle 3 schools. According to The National, there will also be compulsory classes covering the subjects of language, speech and communication, humanities, health, career counselling and test preparation. The changes were implemented for grade 11 students in August 2015, with plans to roll out the new curriculum for grade 12 students in the 2016/17 academic year. ADEC has recently rolled out the Abu Dhabi School Model (ADSM), previously known as the New School Model, and implemented the use of English as the medium of instruction in mathematics and science. ADSM has been implemented for grade 8 during the 2015/16 school year.
Working With Industry
Stakeholders’ interest in changes to STEM education at the K-12 level was exemplified by the June 2015 announcement of a landmark agreement between ADEC and Mubadala Development Company. The two organisations will create a joint steering committee that identifies the format and goals of future STEM programmes, with the aim of coordinating educational policy with labour market requirements. By working together to establish a stronger curricular infrastructure for STEM subjects, ADEC and Mubadala Development Company expect to establish more synergies between educational institutions and corporations in the ICT, health care, aerospace and utilities sectors, as well as emerging industries such as renewable energy and semiconductors. Initiatives to align the emirate’s educational strategy with market needs will help support STEM advancement, although curriculum reforms still face challenges. The shortage of STEM teachers is a global problem and many STEM graduates choose a higher-paying career in industry, rather than teaching, especially in the K-12 segment.