Matching skills to the needs of the nation.

Author:Seymour, Richard


Of the many factors by which a nation judges itself, including health care, social welfare and employment, one of the most cherished is its standard of education. While steering clear of cliches about children being our future, it is no less true that a well-educated population with the ability to think critically and solve problems is essential for the future prosperity of any country.

If there is one constant in this world, it is change. Whether society is evolving more rapidly than it used to, or whether it just feels that way, continually shifting dynamics and trends make setting the tone for a national policy on education troublesome.

In many parts of the world, the 20th century, particularly post 1945, saw an opening up of trade and the economies of the world striving to take advantage of evolving technologies. New industries, such as computing, replaced old ones. And wherever they did, there was a need to recruit workers with the necessary skills. Skills that were alien to former generations became essential as humanity marched on.

Education, for both young and old, needed to adapt. The potential engineers and software writers of tomorrow would not be served by 19th century ideas of learning by rote, and nor would the burgeoning new industries with vacancies to fill.

The ability to develop new technology requires a talent for innovation; the capacity to identify a problem and think about methods of solving it. Whereas 100 years ago, an employer might have preferred the majority of the work force simply to do as they were told, increasingly, bosses were looking for thinkers.

The importance of being able to study for and pass exams was re-evaluated. Vocational training became more highly regarded, propelled by economies shifting from manufacturing to technology-based industries.

The Middle East region has sought to adapt its educational systems to suit the changing needs of its society.

With a generally youthful population--regionally an average of more than 60% of people are below the age of 30, and around a fifth between the ages of 15 and 24--the potential is vast. However, unemployment in the region is high, averaging out at 25%.

The problems arising from this, especially the plight of young, disaffected males with no prospects, are well documented; but the fact there are so many young people in the region can also be seen as an opportunity.

From the 1960s to the present day, 5% of the Middle East's gross...

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