Can STEM education guarantee job security in the Middle East?

Can STEM education guarantee job security in the Middle East?
Will the number of jobs that are rendered obsolete by the rapid pace of technological change be greater than the new opportunities and career options it creates? (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 12 August 2020

Can STEM education guarantee job security in the Middle East?

Can STEM education guarantee job security in the Middle East?
  • The growing need for STEM skills is outpacing the slow process of change in curricula globally
  • Ed-tech platform Geek Express focuses on laying the ‘foundation of education and innovation’

DUBAI: Advances in technology continue to redefine the ways in which we think, work, live and interact with people and our surroundings. As a result, many traditional careers are in decline, which raises important questions for young people in particular.

Will the number of jobs that are rendered obsolete by the rapid pace of technological change be greater than the new opportunities and career options it creates? And, crucially, what are the key subjects to study and skills to learn to keep in step with the times and future-proof career options?

According to Manal Hakim, the founder and CEO of Geek Express, an educational-technology platform, the key to future job security lies in predicting changes in employment roles and learning the skills needed to adapt to them. In the next decade, for example, it is estimated that the increased use of AI in all sectors will eliminate 75 million jobs, but create 133 million, she said.

Many future jobs will be based, to a significant degree, on “coding, robotics and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) skills,” said Hakim, adding that demand will grow for workers proficient in jobs such as data analysis, software and app development, robotics, and e-commerce and social media.

The importance of, and emphasis placed on, STEM education lies in the fact that it focuses on real-world applications of the four disciplines through a cohesive learning approach. Considered by education experts as a driver of sustainable growth in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, STEM-related classes are offered across the region, through workshops in schools and also as standalone courses.

By teaching students as young as five years old the fundamentals of skills such as coding, robotics and design, STEM education is laying the “foundation of both education and innovation,” said Hakim.

She describes coding, robotics and design as the “new universal language,” and an integral part of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) education, which is an integrated approach to learning designed to encourage students to think more broadly about real-world problems.

There is already a shift underway in education, with a growing emphasis on dedicated lessons on coding and STEM skills for children in the earliest grades, according to Cody Claver, general manager of accredited online school iCademy Middle East.

“Students are drawn to the futuristic skills they see as fun and engaging,” he said.

He believes that students who acquire technological skills in a focused, purposeful way, and also gain familiarity with learning in a technological environment, end up as assets for potential employers.

Currently, Geek Express provides private, live online coaching to 1,200 students between the ages of 5 and 17 in Beirut, Dubai, Jeddah and Doha. It uses a “futuristic school” model that offers a range of learning options, in English and Arabic, that students can work through at their own pace, including hands-on projects, private lessons, semester-long classes and educational holiday camps.

The main focus, said Hakim, is to teach young people how to code so that they become “creators of technology” and not simply passive users. More than 30 courses are available, beginning with block-based coding logic for the youngest students, followed by more complex algorithms, game design, app and web development, and advanced classes on data science and AI.

“A child should be able to design his or her own app, not only use it,” Hakim said.

The importance of preparing young minds to adapt to future job-market demands might transform our ideas about, and approach to, education, said Claver.

“I believe we will see a continued re-imagination on the part of companies such as Google, Amazon and the like, to have students bypass traditional university structures and train directly with them,” he said.

Given the rapid changes in technology, and the resultant evolution of the job market, how prepared are education authorities to ensure students meet future employment demands? This is a particularly important question for the Middle East and North Africa region, where nearly half of the population is under the age of 24, according to data from UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund?

Three main criteria will determine job security in the years ahead, particularly for those born since 1995: flexibility, diversity of qualifications, and technological skills.

Emma Whale, vice president of Schools education company Pearson Middle East, said that educators and regional governments are making concerted efforts to ensure these criteria are recognized as the gateway to future employability, but there are also other factors that create a gap between skills and jobs.

“The gap is also about language proficiency, and those uniquely human skills that will differentiate us in the future from AI,” said Whale.

Hakim said that efforts are already being made to ensure young people learn the skills they need for the future but more can be done.

“There have been great initiatives in the region, such as the UAE’s One Million Arab Coders and the Saudi Vision 2030 for education,” she said.

However, she said that the growing need for STEM skills is outpacing the slow process of change to curricula in the region and around the world.

“I believe the best ways to fill the gap are broader and bolder (education) reforms, and consistent collaboration between the private and public sectors to build momentum for STEM adoption across private and public schools, homes, activity centers, camps and youth programs, with this model as the foundation for all education,” said Hakim.

Proper analysis of employment trends is also important when preparing for the future as it provides valuable pointers for educators and policymakers. A survey by education provider Pearson Global, for example, found that 79 percent of respondents felt they should do more to develop their knowledge of STEM subjects.

“An understanding of in-demand skills such as coding, UX (user experience) design, cloud computing and analytical reasoning helps people to expand their knowledge and capabilities and set themselves apart from other (job) candidates,” said Whale.

She also listed creative thinking, reasoning, collaboration, strong interpersonal communication, emotional quotient, diversity and cultural intelligence as ranking high among sought-after personal skills in the job market.

The half-life of job skills — meaning the amount of time it takes for half of the knowledge associated with those skills to becomes irrelevant — has fallen from 30 years to an average of just six years. As a result, Whale said: “Companies in the future will look at hiring candidates with a desirable mix of hard and soft skills.” Hard skills are related to technical knowledge and training, while soft skills are personality traits such as leadership and communication.

While endorsing the value of a broad academic grounding, she said it is important for students with a clear idea of the industries they might want to work in to follow a clear vocational pathway, which can provide a faster track to employment.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being fueled by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological. The key to success in the job market during this era will be to welcome change and celebrate it, said Whale.

“It’s time for all of us to begin acquiring skills that will make us valuable resources in the future workplace,” she added.

---------------

@jumana_khamis


UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
Updated 4 min 19 sec ago

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
  • Both sides discussed mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism
  • The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout

RIYADH: The UAE received Zvi Heifetz, Israeli’s special envoy to the GCC states, in Abu Dhabi as both countries reviewed the progress of their bilateral relations since signing a peace agreement last September.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, welcomed the Israeli official to explore further UAE-Israeli relations and mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and during the meeting underlined the importance of accelerating efforts to ensure recovery from the crisis.

Last month, the UAE established a $10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel that include energy, manufacturing and healthcare.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, both countries have established reciprocal diplomatic missions, launched direct flights and held several trade visits – with the UAE attracting over 50,000 Israeli tourists.


UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
  • The UAE reports 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities
  • Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

DUBAI: The UAE is considering imposing movement restrictions on individuals who remain hesitant to have themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life … Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society and puts all groups, especially those most vulnerable to infection, at risk,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said in reports from local media.

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures, such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” he added, as he urged residents aged 16 and above to get vaccinated.

The UAE reported 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities related to the highly transmissible disease overnight, amid the government’s continued inoculation program for citizens and residents.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload now stands at 500,860 while total fatality count is at 1,559, a report from state news agency WAM said.

Health officials said that 113,621 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of jabs given provided to 9,788,826 for a distribution rate of 98.97 doses per 100 people.

Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second COVID-19 shot to be made available in the emirate after beginning a mass campaign using the Sinopharm vaccine that was trialed in the country.

Pfizer obtained emergency approval in the UAE in December and Dubai rolled out the vaccine during that month.


Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
Updated 21 April 2021

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process

Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
  • Arab League, African Union, EU and UN call for accelerated efforts to improve security and fully implement ceasefire
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres says urgent and immediate action is needed or window of opportunity might be lost

The international Libya Quartet on Tuesday urged authorities in the country to step up their efforts to improve the security situation and build confidence, to help bring peace to the country and fully implement the ceasefire agreement.
The members of the Quartet — the League of Arab States, the African Union (AU), the EU and the UN — said they are ready to help with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s plans for a “robust, credible and effective” ceasefire monitoring mechanism.
On Friday the UN Security Council unanimously voted to send up to 60 international monitors to Libya to oversee the ceasefire, which was agreed in October between the two rival factions in the East and West of the country. Operational and logistical preparations for the mission are under way.
Speaking at the sixth meeting of the Libya Quartet, which was convened on Tuesday by the League of Arab States, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the monitoring team will initially be a “nimble” presence in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but expand over time.
He also made it clear that after years of violence and suffering there is a window of opportunity for peace “but urgent and immediate actions are needed to make use of this narrow window.”
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the Quartet members called for the “immediate and unconditional” withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country as a prerequisite for fully restoring Libyan sovereignty and preserving national unity.
They also condemned continual violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and the threat posed by armed groups and militias. They called for “the sustained implementation of measures to fully identify and dismantle these groups, and ensure the subsequent reintegration of those individuals meeting the requirements into national institutions as outlined in the ceasefire agreement … without delay.”
The meeting also included discussion of the possible deployment of AU, EU and Arab League observer missions, “at the request of Libya’s authorities, and if the requisite conditions on the ground permit,” to assist the National Elections Commission in its preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December.
The importance of the elections taking place in “a favorable political and security environment, so that they are held in an inclusive, transparent and credible manner and where all Libyans commit to respect their results and integrity” was emphasized.
Participants also encouraged Libya’s new Government of National Unity, and other relevant institutions, to uphold their commitment to appoint women to at least 30 percent of senior executive positions, and to promote a national, rights-based reconciliation across the country.


Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2021

Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
  • The 12-day campaign was launched in the temporary capital Aden and 13 Yemeni governorates
  • The campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts

RIYADH: Yemen launched the first round of its COVID-19 inoculation campaign on Tuesday in the temporary capital, Aden.
The campaign is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).
Yemeni Minister of Public Health and Population Qasim Buhaibeh, Minister of Civil Service and Insurance Abdul Nasser Al-Wali, Governor of Aden Ahmed Hamed Lamlas, Yemen’s representative for UNICEF Philippe Duamelle, and director of the WHO office in Aden Noha Mahmoud all received the vaccine in a show of support, Saba News Agency reported.
Yemen received 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 31, part of a consignment from COVAX expected to total 1.9 million doses this year.
Buhaibeh said this was the first step toward reaching the ministry’s goal of administering 12 million vaccines by the end of the year, urging doctors, the elderly and those with chronic diseases to register to receive the jab.
Duamelle said frontline workers, the elderly and those with certain health problems would be prioritized.
“The launch of the campaign against the coronavirus is an important day in Yemen’s history,” he said, adding that the health minister and other ministers have taken the vaccination confirming its safety.
The 12-day campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts across 13 Yemeni governorates under the control of the internationally recognized government.
There has been a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections in Yemen since mid-February, further straining a health system battered by the conflict.
The government’s health ministry has previously said the COVAX vaccines will be free, and distributed across the country. COVAX is co-led by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the WHO to provide COVID vaccines to low-income countries.
Tuesday’s rollout covered only government-held parts of the country, said Ishraq Al-Seba’ei who is with the government’s emergency coronavirus committee. But she said 10,000 doses were being sent to Sanaa via the WHO.
Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee registered 42 confirmed cases and six deaths on Tuesday. It has recorded 5,858 coronavirus infections and 1,132 deaths so far though the true figure is widely thought to be much higher as the war has restricted COVID-19 testing.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of the north have provided no figures since a couple of cases last May.
Meanwhile, KSrelief said it has provided support for protection projects within Saudi Arabia’s grant for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2020. 
The center cooperated with UNICEF to provide protection services by enabling children and their families to access psychosocial support and mental health services, totaling $4 million.
(With Reuters)


Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 21 April 2021

Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Natanz nuclear plant sabotage lays bare vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of own population
  • Analysts say Tehran’s tepid response is a sign of its desperation for sanctions relief above all else

LONDON: Analysts have said that the blast that struck Iran’s most critical nuclear facility on April 11 is another significant event in a decades-long shadow war between Tehran and its regional adversary Israel.

They say the sabotage has not only exposed Iran’s vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of its own population, but its tepid response has revealed its desperation for sanctions relief above all else.

Unnamed intelligence officials from Mossad told Israeli media and the New York Times last week that the mysterious Natanz explosion was their handiwork. And, according to Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, it is a continuation of the spate of blasts, blackouts, and fires that swept across the Islamic Republic last year — but with one major difference.

“What has changed from last year is how public it is. (Israel) is ready to take responsibility. From a shadow war it has moved to the forefront,” Mekelberg told Arab News.

“This confrontation has been taking place for two decades now, at least. Cyberattacks, assassinations of scientists, attacks on ships — this is something that is ongoing. What you have seen in the last year or so is that it is becoming open, from covert to overt.”

In the past year alone, Iran has been rocked by a relentless series of attacks, assassinations, and sabotages. The country’s top nuclear scientist was killed in a sophisticated attack.

Their entire nuclear archives were stolen and smuggled out of the country, and nuclear, military, and logistics sites across the country have suffered from a series of mysterious setbacks.

An image grab from footage obtained from Iranian State TV IRIB on April 17, 2021 shows the portrait of a man identified as 43-year-old Reza Karimi, saying the intelligence ministry had established his role in last week's "sabotage" on the Natanz nuclear facility. (AFP/File Photo)

According to Mekelberg, these incidents have not only hindered Iran’s economy and nuclear program, but also exposed a fundamental weakness in the regime.

“They have a real issue inside their nuclear program,” he said. “The idea that their top scientist, they couldn’t protect him, and that someone managed to take your nuclear archives out of the country — that is not something you can simply put in your pocket.”

Iranian state television named 43-year-old Iranian national Reza Karimi as the prime suspect in the April sabotage — but said he had already fled the country in the hours before the blast occurred.

Mekelberg and other experts believe the involvement of an Iranian national is indicative of the regime’s core vulnerability: Turncoats within its population, and even within the nuclear program itself.

INNUMBERS

Iranian oil

* $40 - Price per barrel of oil used in Iran’s budget calculations.

* 300,000 - Estimated oil exports in barrels per day (bpd) in 2020.

* 2.8m - Iranian oil exports in bpd in 2018.

“They have a real issue with security. I assume that the more things like this happen, the more paranoid they become about who they can trust, who is working with foreign agencies. Obviously, someone is,” Mekelberg said.

Olli Heinonen, a non-proliferation expert and distinguished fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, believes the sophistication of the Natanz attack means there is little doubt that local collaborators from within the regime enabled it.

“Those who have designed and executed these actions have insider information and highly likely local contributors,” Heinonen told Arab News.

This handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 8, 2020 shows an overview of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran. (AFP/Maxar/File Photo)

Like Mekelberg, Heinonen highlighted Iran’s apparent ineptitude in defending even its most critical nuclear facilities and pointed to the stark contrast between the country’s record and another global pariah state’s nuclear program.

“It is worth noting that we have not heard about similar incidents in North Korea,” he said. “It is evident that the (Iranian) security forces have not been able to protect the assets as the leadership had expected.

“This does not come as a surprise. Not all Iranians, including technical professionals, buy the reasonability of the enrichment efforts, the investments for which could be used better elsewhere, even within the nuclear program.”

Tehran has admitted that the attacks caused serious damage at the Natanz facility. Last week, Alireza Zakani, a regime hardliner who heads the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in an interview on state television.

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran's Revolutionary Guard on August 25, 2014, shows an alleged Israeli drone that was shot down above the Natanz uranium enrichment site. (AFP/File Photo)

“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee said. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

Heinonen said the attacks have “certainly slowed production” of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is above the enrichment level needed for nuclear power, but far below the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium.

However, he cautioned that production could begin to ramp up again within three months of the attack, and Tehran’s promise to begin enriching uranium to 60 percent in response to the attack could act as a springboard toward rapid development of a nuclear bomb.

“In a short term (60 percent enrichment) does not contribute much to breakout time, but it demonstrates the fact that uranium enrichment is mainly designed to build a nuclear latency; to be in a position to relaunch in short interval a full nuclear weapon acquisition program, if such a decision is made,” he said.

The response to the attacks is part of a delicate balancing act by Tehran, according to Nader Di Michele, an Iran-focused analyst at political risk consultancy Prelia.

This handout powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage shows an explosion (L) and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

“They do not want escalations but the government has to show a response in terms of its foreign policy. That could be aimed at international actors or even its domestic population,” he told Arab News.

Beyond increasing uranium enrichment, it was reported that unknown actors targeted an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the following days. However, Di Michele thinks the damage caused by that attack was, by design, minimal compared with the devastation caused by the Natanz attack.

“There always has to be a response to these attacks, but I think the Iranian delegation understands that there is a limit to what they can do if they want sanctions relief.”

Di Michele said if the ongoing negotiations in Vienna prompt a lifting of sanctions and release of various assets that, in turn, deliver a financial boost to the regime, “we can never be sure what proportion of that would go to support which activities.”

He added: “It can be assumed that a proportion of those assets released would go toward foreign policy activities. What those entail, I couldn’t speculate on.”

---------------

Twitter: @CHamillStewart