For A Brighter Future In The Middle East, Reform Education Before It Is Too Late!

Young children in Jordan at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, learning business terminology.
Young children in Jordan at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, learning business terminology.

In the recently published Arab Youth Survey (Arab Youth Survey) there was one alarming figure that caught my attention: 66 percent of youth in the Levant and North Africa regions are not satisfied with the way the education system is preparing them for future jobs. That is an overwhelming number, especially when average youth unemployment rates are already between 25-30 percent. This does not bode well for the economic and social outlook of the Arab world, especially when you consider future factors such as automation and an increasingly competitive global economy.

While the GCC fares better, 80 percent satisfaction rates with the education system, the entire MENA region averages at a 49 percent dissatisfaction rate. Education, from primary school and onwards, is vital to developing a nation’s workforce, not just in capacity and knowledge building, but shaping personalities of industrious and innovative citizens.

However, if all these smart and capable youth have limited or no job opportunities, an exodus of human capital can leave a nation in a more precarious situation. That is why governments across the region have prioritized entrepreneurship as the best way to create job opportunities for their growing populations. Capable entrepreneurs don’t just grow on trees though; they need to be nurtured at an early age to truly bridge the unemployment gap — this is why:

The region’s education system needs to play a greater role in educating children about entrepreneurship as a viable career path and preparing them with the right skills to succeed as business leaders and innovators.

Learners in Dubai, UAE setting up the foundations of their entrepreneurship project - Color Marks, Origami Bookmarks.
Learners in Dubai, UAE setting up the foundations of their entrepreneurship project - Color Marks, Origami Bookmarks.

The foundations are there for us to build on; all people, regardless of social or economic backgrounds are born with an entrepreneurial spirit, the key is to nurture and develop the traits and skills that define a successful entrepreneur. As we develop these skills, future entrepreneurs will be better prepared for the challenges of launching a business and create a greater impact in the future. What’s important to emphasize is that these skills need to be developed as early as seven or eight years old to truly shape that entrepreneurial mindset. In parallel to developing these skills, it is crucial to supplement this knowledge with financial literacy to further equip future generations to better manage their money and navigate a complex financial system.

To start, both public and private schools can implement curriculums, such as the BizWorld programs, that educate children with basic business vocabulary, finance, the manufacturing process, and other critical business functions to give children a practical introduction into the entrepreneurship world. Teaching these practical business skills, financial literacy, and with technology-focused classes we can better prepare students for future jobs.

This is only half the story though, future entrepreneurs and leaders will need to have developed skills that go beyond business basics and financial literacy. The education system needs to develop children’s critical thinking skills and move away from the memorize-repeat cycle. The system also needs to develop children’s creativity and ingenuity in addition to so many other personality and behavioral traits that fuel entrepreneurs to thrive despite of the challenges they will surely face.

If we are to reform the education system so it no longer fails our youth, but instead acts as a springboard for them to lead successful and fulfilling lives, we need to teach with the future in mind and to the opportunities that will be available. As much as it’s said that our children are our future, then we need to start investing in them and in their education, so they not only live up to their own potential, but make our region more competitive globally and create great examples of Arab progress and innovation.

Helen Al Uzaizi is the CEO of BizWorld UAE and founder of the entrepreneurship education platform for the MENA region, Future Entrepreneurs. With a 15+ year career in the corporate and start-up worlds, Helen directed her passion to the entrepreneurship education field, working to instill the entrepreneurial mindset in the next generation of leaders.