The real purpose of education

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The school year is coming to an end and many pupils will sit final exams in the next few days. But how many of them will be well-equipped for an unpredictable future? The Future of Education report published this month by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority highlighted the need for UAE schools to strike a better balance between preparing pupils to pass exams and providing a holistic education that they can carry for life.

The UAE education system, like many other education systems, is reliant on end-of-school exams to determine student success. And so, instead of viewing education as an end in itself, students study mainly to get decent exam results and move to the next level. The inevitable result of such a mentality is that many graduates – even those who perform well in exams – may not be ready to face life’s practical challenges. And the subjects they were made to learn because of the fixed curriculum may seem useless after graduation.

Finland, which already had one of the most developed education systems, has introduced “Phenomenon Based Learning” instead of the subject-based education system. At the start of the academic year, Finnish educators were required to begin teaching in a more cross-disciplinary way, swapping maths and history, for instance, with topics such as climate change and migration.

One thing that this approach could do is to train students to think critically and practically, which is essential to preparing them for life and employment after school. We live in a world where information is easily accessible and what’s missing is how we process the information and use it for our good. As American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”

The UAE aims to be ranked as one of the top education systems in the world – systems that are based on exam results alone – but we should not put all the focus on that. Our education system is young and, thus, we still have the opportunity to break through and innovate for a better future.

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