At the same time schools are trying to adapt to the acceptance that not all students are the same, and offering an increasing number of academic and vocational pathways to students of 16 to 18 years of age. These consist of more than 'just' the likes of 'soft skills' or robotics, which are slowly moving into the mainstream curriculum.
At the forefront on non-traditional education for some time, has been Dubai-based online school iCademy Middle East. In the course of our research it told us it has noted a sharp increase in demand for courses that give young people specialist skills related to computer technology.
Cody Claver, the General Manager of iCademy Middle East, says it shows how parents and children are, more than ever, thinking about the future, and looking to digital jobs and careers as providing some form of certainty.
“We have more than 160 elective courses that most traditional schools in the region are not able to have on their curriculum. Since the summer we have seen that those relating to digital technology are very popular and in particular specialist skills such as computer coding. The feedback is that in the UAE and across the GCC parents and children are looking at the future job market and understanding there are massive opportunities in the digital world."
Some schools say they have noted that while subject choices are not really changing, the perception and acceptance of once peripheral subjects earlier deemed as 'not academic enough' or 'not rigorous', are now increasingly valued by tertiary institutions, employers and the students themselves.
Michael Bloy, Secondary Headteacher at Kings' School Al Barsha told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com:
“We have not made any courses redundant here, in fact, we are seeking to expand on them. We are currently looking to add BTEC Business and Media Level 3, and BTEC Advanced Professional Cookery Level 3 to meet students' needs and demands for September 2019. Otherwise, we already have an extensive A-Level provision of 24 courses, ranging from specialist subjects such as Photography and Music Sound Engineering to the more traditional subject choices at A Level in mathematics, sciences, humanities, languages and the Arts.”
Jumeirah English Speaking School has seen a shift in the subject choices taken by the Sixth Formers. Ian Thurston, Head of Sixth Form at JESS, explained:
“In 2017 we introduced a new pathway for Sixth Formers with the introduction of a Specialist Extended BTEC Diploma. This Level 3 qualification is equivalent to 3 A levels and is initially available in three distinct areas: Art, Business or Sport. At JESS, we chose to offer the extended Diplomas which means our students can also top up their studies by additional modules such as an A level in Art History. This year starting in September 2018 we introduced Computer Science into our IB Programme.”
The first school in Dubai to offer the three pathways of the IBDP, A' Levels and BTEC programmes, Sunmarke School will have a number of courses on offer for its post 16 students.
Claire Young, Head of Sixth Form at Sunmarke told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that it will offer the classic IB Courses such as Maths, English, Languages and Sciences but there would be "exciting new options" such as DP Psychology, DP Business, DP Film, PD Visual Arts, DP ESS and DP ITGS.
Technology courses are popular at the moment, but many schools are seeing that students are demanding an increasing range of vocational courses. Continued Ms. Young:
“Sunmarke already offers four popular BTEC Diploma courses at Level 3 in Creative Media Production, Business, Hospitality and Travel and Tourism, we will be continuing to offer these for September and enhancing that offering with the addition of the Career-Related Programme. Students will now be able to take the CP Core alongside their BTEC to develop their personal and professional skills and consider the ethical issues of their chosen career-related study. It's an excellent option that prepares students for both continued academics and the practical skills to go straight into work if that's what the student prefers.”
Kings’ School Al Barsha has witnessed a shift in parental and tertiary acceptance of vocational qualifications, helped by the likes of Oxford University's statement that it would now consider students with strong vocational qualifications.
Kings' head of secondary, Mr. Bloy told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that there was a "a wider demand from employers for students with practical experience of the workplace, and especially for students who have had the chance to develop their soft-skills of teamwork, communication, and problem-solving on the job."
"I believe that we will witness a move to a more blended approach over the coming years, probably more so at tertiary level, where students undertake work experience alongside more traditional studies. This is something that we are already seeking to build into our post-16 studies, with students taking on longer-term work experience in industry and business, to gain experience, in place of the traditional week-long work placement.”
Mr Bloy added this blended approach aims to complement a wider pattern globally, with blue-chip employers seeking to recruit and train students at 18, rather than waiting for university graduates.
JESS has seen a live example of a student choosing a vocational course over a traditional qualification. Explained Mr. Thurston:
“Kate Williams-Parry is just completing her two year BTEC in Art Diploma and choose this route over the IB Diploma programme as it allowed her more time in the Art studio and means she does not have to complete a one year Foundation course at Art College and can be accepted straight onto a 3 year undergraduate course.
If Kate had chosen the IB pathway, she would have had to undertake an additional year and complete a four year undergraduate Arts degree. Kate is applying for universities now and has offers from Central St Martin in London amongst others proving the BTEC qualifications are a viable route to university."
It is clear that UAE schools are increasingly looking at introducing new pathways and subject to offer choices to their students, not only as part of a global acknowledgement that qualifications need to better align with industry, but more pragmatically, because of increasing competition for you. To get your custom, schools are having to work hard, and give you a choice more expansive than just traditional A' Levels, AP or IB DP.
Possible post-16 pathways available to students in the UAE is an area both we, and no doubt schools themselves, will be doubling down on, in 2019. Never has thinking about what skills students really need been more important.
Photo Courtesy: Jumeirah English Speaking School Dubai