Dear Sir,

It is conventional wisdom that the strongest ministries in any country are the ministries of defence, foreign affairs and finance. Together they run the country's most pressing affairs and are considered the real movers and shakers. They usually look down at other ministries as a necessary annoyance, as a reaction to the masses, or as a deflection of media criticism.

I am here to share with you a deferring, and growing, point of view among my generation and perhaps that of my father's as well. I am here to share with you my view that after our defence fights our wars and our foreign affairs negotiates our peace and our finance repays our debts their effects are elapsed& but yours are not.

No sir, your post is incredibly more powerful and meaningful, because what you do today will impact my niece, my children and her children. What you do will impact many generations to come. What you do today will shape our country, advance its citizens and ultimately shape its competitiveness and contribute to its identity.

Sir, I am sure you're aware of all this and agree the burden is very heavy, the responsibility is very great.

And so, from this point of departure, I want to share my seven fils with you. It is my responsibility as a member of this community to put forward my thoughts. What's good is that we agree that our education is not where we want it and that it must improve and allow our graduates to realise the ambitious plans of our leaders; and so I'm not worried about why and when, but more about how.

So here goes everything: our educational system needs to be revamped - yes I know you agree; the question is how.

The first thing to note is that there is no Occidental supremacy in education any longer, specifically in primary and secondary education. Whatever one may still see now is mainly the result of years of branding and past successes. In 1999, the state of Massachusetts noted a decline in maths scoring in students at the 5th grade. According to a 2004 Wall Street Journal article: "A statewide test in Massachusetts revealed that students' maths skills deteriorated sharply as they went from fourth to sixth grade. Alarmed, the Massachusetts education commissioner suggested an unconventional fix: importing the maths curriculum used in Singapore."

About 200 schools nationwide eventually adopted the programme and "early indications suggest that many US students taught with textbooks imported from Singapore do perform better in maths".

What is interesting is that Singapore itself is younger than the African-American civil rights movement i.e. for a country so young to develop a maths curriculum worthy of importing into the world's most advanced country is proof that there is no educational method cast in stone.

The point I'm trying to make here is that we do not necessarily need to transform our educational system into an American or British one - with the help of such related consultants. We should spend time to research and develop our curriculum in-house with selective external support.

The second point to be made is that there is a need to integrate education with real life. This is a two pronged approach. First, and less debatable, there should be well designed mandatory work placement programmes as early as grade 10 in various fields to choose from that reflect the majors one would have to study in college in order to work in.

This would immediately give students a better understanding of what they may be interested in - or not so interested in.

The second, and more debatable, idea is to encourage high school graduates to defer enrolling in undergraduate programmes at universities for a year. During this period, they would get a job. This would further enhance their understanding of what it means to be part of the work force and what are the less glamourous aspects of being a banker or a lawyer, or what it really takes to work in the media and advertising industries. This approach of actively - as opposed to rhetorically - integrating education with work will ensure that once students enrol into college they would make more informed career decisions.

Third, and most obviously, education must be taught with passion and in a curious way. I'm referring to the training and reeducation of our teachers, not so much in content - well a little maybe - but more so in approach. My niece shouldn't be taught in the same way I was; in a tired, boring, clich├ęd method.

Finally, of course we should enact the calls for refocus on quality of education (understanding) as opposed to quantity of education (memorising).

I hope you take my thoughts into consideration.


An Emirati

- Mishaal Al Gergawi is an Emirati commentator on socio-economic and cultural affairs in the UAE.