By Afshan Ahmed www.thenational.ae
Technical courses will be offered to students at six public high schools in the capital as part of a drive to develop industry-specific skills among Emiratis.
The selected secondary schools, located in the Al Wagan and Al Quaa areas of Al Ain and Delma Island, will be run by the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT) as part of an agreement signed with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) yesterday.
IAT took control of the old vocational school system in 2005, promising to offer less-academically inclined students a way to prepare for the job market.
Today, students at IAT schools can choose from one of four career clusters: science and engineering, health science and technology, IT or applied engineering.
Hussain Ibrahim al Hammadi, the chairman of IAT, said: “Right now, technical education constitutes only 5 per cent of the high school system. If we want to be an industrialised nation, this has to boosted to 30 per cent at least.”
Students at the selected secondary schools were previously offered subjects only in the arts or science streams. The handover will involve IAT introducing technical and vocational education at Omaima Bint Abdul Mutallab school for girls, Al Farazdak school for boys in the Delma and Al Gharbia areas, Albadiya School for girls, Alkoo Schools for boys and Alwajn School for girls.
These schools were specifically chosen for the first phase of technical subject roll-out because they fall within remote areas that are currently being developed, said Dr Mugheer al Khaili, the director general of Adec.
“The remote areas are in need of such programmes as technical training institutes are not present there at the moment,” he said. “A big tourism project is under way in Delma Island and likewise a lot of investment has been made in projects in the Western Region as well. We will need to develop the human resources there too.”
Offering more vocational streams to the youth may also stem the problem of dropouts, experts have said.
According to figures from the Ministry of Education for the 2007/2008 academic year, the dropout rate in Abu Dhabi is 12 per cent for boys in Grade 10 and 3 per cent for girls.
Teachers at schools where the technical and vocational curriculum is introduced will be trained to offer a more hands-on approach and meet international standards.
“We will have extra-curricular activities to enhance leadership, English language skills and create applied mathematics and practical science lessons,” said Mr al Hammadi.
However, he warned that for the programme to be successful, parents needed to ditch the outdated perception that vocational education is for “dumb” students.
“The mindset parents have about vocational education is very negative,” said Mr al Hammadi. “It is changing gradually, but we have to create an awareness on the importance of such skills.”
Dr Lynne Pierson, director of P-12 education at Adec, said the technical stream in public schools would give students an opportunity to pursue their interests from an early age. “People are still unaware of the emerging industries,” she said.
“Technical education is not about learning how to be a plumber or technician. It is about learning to be employed in areas like health care and computer-based jobs, which are requirements in this rapidly-changing technological world.”
She said students in technical programmes in the US tend to be more marketable than those that take the conventional route of education.
There are six IAT centres in the Emirates and the plan is to open more campuses and increase enrolment from the existing 3,000 students, in support of the 2030 vision for Abu Dhabi that seeks to move away from an oil-based economy.
“We began with only 600 and are aiming to attract more than 4,000,” said Mr al Hammadi.
IAT will consider expanding its collaboration with public schools after gauging the success of the new project. However, Mr al Hammadi said new campuses in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah are on the cards with a girls campus opening in the capital soon.