Camels and Camshafts: Career and Technical Education in the Persian Gulf

Article excerpt

For the past three years the Occupational Research Group at the University of Georgia (UGA) has been working with the Ministry of Education and Youth in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) on a unique international project to improve the technical secondary education system in the U.A.E. The goals of this reform initiative are to revise and update curriculum content, improve teaching and learning, improve school management and operations, and revitalize instruction by introducing project-based teaching and learning. Initially invited to review the results of a five-year curriculum revision effort by a German consulting group based on a labor market analysis of job trends and skill training needs in the U.A.E., the UGA evaluation team recommended a plan to move the technical schools to a level of "world class" education standards, benchmarked to American vocational education and international skill training standards.

The reasons for UGA's involvement in this project were varied. Project leaders believed that now more than ever before, given the increasing U.S. involvement in Iraq and this part of the world, Americans need to know more about Arab and Islamic cultures, societies and peoples. They need to understand that all Arabs aren't terrorists, but are people like us with strong family values, generous and hospitable, who want a secure and comfortable life. Arab students in the technical schools, like ours, can learn skills to run their country and contribute to its economic development and stability, the best insurance against terrorism - which is tied to poverty, desperation, and exploitation or oppression. The UGA project is helping to improve technical education for youth in U.A.E. who have been receiving a second-rate education and who were "written off" by some as being at the bottom of the heap educationally, at high risk of failure-like many vocational students in our own country.

In addition, UGA saw opportunities for their own faculty and students (particularly those with Occupational Studies education majors) to increase their understanding of this part of the world through exchange visits, cooperative research, teacher training, and opportunities to participate in the technical education improvement project in the U.A.E. schools. This project enabled Americans to learn from the advancements being made in economic development by U.A.E. and from the norms of Islamic and Arabic cultures, while using U.S. career and technical education models and experience to improve education in the U.A.E. Many of the lessons learned by U.S. educators from School-to-Work initiatives, work-based learning, contextual teaching and learning, project-oriented learning, and competency-based education were seen by the U.A.E. Ministry of Education as a means of addressing problems of low student motivation and achievement and of upgrading their technical education system to world standards.

Introduction to the U.A.E.

Located in the Persian Gulf region, bordered by Saudi Arabia, and neighbor to Iraq and Iran, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is a small but modern, progressive, moderate Arab Muslim state that in the past thirty years has moved from a tribal, desert society to one of the most highly developed, cosmopolitan, high-tech countries in the Gulf Region. The U.A.E. is unique in its population because of the high number of expatriates (individuals from countries other than U.A.E.) who reside and work in the country, constituting 80-85% of the total U.A.E. population. The government is a federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruling family and Sheik, one of whom serves as president of the country (Sheik Zayed).

As a result of oil wealth, U.A.E. nationals are well provided for in a material sense, and much of the skilled and unskilled labor in the country is contracted to outside workers who enjoy higher wages and standard of living in U.A.E. than in their own countries. This predominantly expatriate labor force makes U. …