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Business lessons

As the region strives toward a knowledge-based economy, education has become big business. But we’re going about it wrong; here’s a lesson for all businesses – even those outside education.

November 15, 2010 5:28 by

When it comes to the business of education, the difference between “doing the right thing” and “doing it right” can make all the difference.

This dichotomy is nowhere more apparent than in the Gulf, where the government sector’s thrust for world-class standards is getting caught between commercialization, state-sanctioned reforms, and efforts to make education relevant to the needs of the market. Just how these tiny Gulf countries and businesses deal with education is a lesson for all small- to medium-sized entrepreneurs on how to deal with developing markets.

While Gulf authorities and policymakers believe they are doing the right thing, big-ticket advisors (at least some of them) say they are not doing it the right way. This argument is causing problems at many levels with as many prescriptions as there are countries.

Questions remain over the pace and direction of education reforms, especially in a small Gulf country such as the U.A.E. “My observation and experience here is that the education reform efforts have not produced any notable changes in schools, student learning, or achievement or output,” a former advisor to the U.A.E.’s ministry of education, Earl Warnica, says.

Problems stem from a lack of execution, too many top-down models, a lack of accountability, and a misguided belief that the government, through ministries and councils, can direct the implementation of reforms, he says.

The U.A.E.’s hope of building a diversified, knowledge-based economy by 2021 is based on more than just building five-star hotels. It requires good schools. The country’s education minister, Humaid Mohammed Obaid Al Qutami, says there are challenges such as school environments that are a disincentive to learning. “School-parent relations are poorly developed and lead to contradictory views and approaches,” Al Qutami says.

To meet these challenges, his ministry has set a 10-year student-centered plan for comprehensive reform. The objectives range from increasing the educational attainment of students to creating an ideal school environment, ensuring equal opportunities, and raising the level of administrative efficiency.

There is another serious issue, that of importing courses and curricula without adequately indigenizing them. World-class standards may need world-class approaches but simply adopting a set of standards from abroad means a lack of adequate emphasis to the needs of the local language and culture.

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