Developing a cadre of highly qualified professionals to drive innovation and lead progress remains one of the biggest gaps and potentially greatest hurdles for Dubai’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector. The government has acknowledged this gap and has embarked on several initiatives to bolster education and training in the sector. Furthermore, it has also prioritised the use of ICT in the education system to enhance learning outcomes.
ENSURING ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE: The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority established the ICT Fund to support research and development projects in the UAE, as well as to facilitate education and training in the sector. According to its mission statement, the ICT Fund “strives to promote a culture of entrepreneurship in the UAE ICT sector and to improve linkage between industry and academia”. In addition, the ICT Fund also aims to get more Emirati nationals involved in scientific and technological research “in order to foster self-reliance of technology creation and development in the country”. Within this mandate, one key area that the fund is investing in is scholarships to help students entering the ICT sector.
Several universities across the UAE have signed agreements with the Dh80m ($21.78m) fund to finance scholarships for UAE nationals. The universities include Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), American University in Dubai (AUD) and American University in Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK). The scholarships will cover a total of 114 students across the four universities.
AUD, for example, will award a full scholarship to a total of 30 students from the UAE. Thirty will attend the Masdar Institute for masters degree programmes, 24 at RIT, including 12 bachelors and 12 masters students, and 30 at AURAK. AUD and the RIT have featured prominently in Dubai’s higher education system and offer a variety of engineering degrees in ICT and its applications. In a statement, Eesa Bastaki, the CEO of the ICT Fund and member of the Advisory Council of the School of Engineering at AUD, said, “This agreement will encourage other Emirati students to make the necessary efforts towards accomplishing academic excellence that will qualify them for such scholarships offered in the future.”
IN THE CLASSROOM: Despite being ranked very highly for its high-quality ICT infrastructure network, Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority and the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau have highlighted that the emirate can do more to improve internet access and to make better use of ICT in the classroom.
A recent study prepared by the education authority found that many students did not have sufficient access to technology, though ICT was being used more effectively than it had been in the past.
“Although teachers now use ICT more regularly, we noticed that many pupils still have insufficient access to ICT to support their education across all subjects. A significant majority of pupils use ICT regularly in an ICT suite or at home, rather than as routine across subjects. This does little to help their progress and independence in learning,” the report noted.
Dubai and the UAE are addressing these issues through the Dh1bn ($272.2m) Mohammad bin Rashid Smart Learning Initiative. The scheme forms a core part of Dubai’s education strategy and will help drive its goal of economic diversification. Under the scheme, the government will distribute tablet computers with high-speed internet access to every student in the UAE. In addition, systems will be developed to enable broader interaction between students, teachers and parents. Teachers will be trained to utilise the technology in their classes and will gradually be expected to develop specific online tools to aid learning.
The dual approach of leveraging ICT to transform the learning environment coupled with targeted scholarships to train students is a long-term approach that is likely to take several years to show measureable results. Until that time Dubai will need to rely on its ability to attract and retain a strong expatriate workforce.
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