Abu Dhabi: The ‘Next Normal’ brings new opportunities, novel ways to learn and grow, and a different set of priorities for the UAE youth, asserted experts at a series of sessions titled A Changing World – the first of three main chapters at the third edition of the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations (MBZMFG 2021).
The virtual event took place on March 14, 2021, under the theme Thriving in the Next Normal, where participants delved deep into topics ranging from the skills that will be most in-demand in the future to tactics that young people could implement to face these pressures, adapt to their new surroundings, and strive to innovate and excel.
Sessions under the first chapter – A Changing World – shed light on the rapid and unprecedented developments that took place around the world in 2020, which had a significant impact on business, individuals, families, communities, and entire countries. The UAE was committed, throughout this period, to making calculated forecasts that anticipate future scenarios and outline the opportunities that lie ahead, all the while empowering youth and encouraging them to continue innovating.
New Ways of Learning
Under this theme, a session titled New Ways of Learning and chaired by H.E. Mohamed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, Director of the Education Affairs Office at the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, explored the rapidly evolving skillsets that will be required in the 21st century, which will compel Emirati youth to embrace lifelong learning and master entrepreneurial skills in order to adapt to change, communicate more effectively, boost critical thinking, and excel at teamwork.
During the session, H.E. Eng. Hussain Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, asserted that nothing is impossible for the UAE’s wise leadership, which is constantly striving towards greater accomplishments. “The leadership relies on talented youth to carry the torch and add landmark accomplishments across all sectors, building on the country’s already illustrious track record, which most recently culminated in the Hope Probe reaching Mars in a project led by our youth,” H.E. said.
H.E. Al Hammadi explained that “education in the UAE is an integrated system operating along several national strategies such as the National Innovation Strategy, the UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, the UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the UAE Strategy for the Future. It begins from early childhood and continues all the way through university education and past graduation when lifelong learning begins.”
“The education system in the UAE is constantly undergoing sweeping developments and upgrades, particularly in terms of programming, analysis, and data,” H.E. Al Hammadi added, noting that design and technology are taught in the early stages of education, that the curriculum is constantly being updated, and that the Ministry had recently announced advanced standards for the sector.
“For students to be knowledgeable of programming, analysis, and data, they must go beyond just familiarising themselves with the subject and strive to master and embed it in real projects,” H.E. noted. “With that in mind, the UAE education system began exploring ways to enable students to carry out their projects – be that individually or in collaboration with their peers. Moreover, students were given the opportunity to showcase their completed projects to ministries, government entities, and private companies who offered them solutions and ideas.”
“The Ministry of Education has worked to standardise the ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ course across all universities in the UAE. We established centres for innovation and entrepreneurship for students in universities, which enjoyed great support from various government entities,” H.E. Al Hammadi revealed.
“The UAE is always looking to the future. All segments of the community must follow suit, especially the youth, in order to fulfil UAE Vision 2071 and establish a robust knowledge economy that is rooted in innovation, as well as the production and application of knowledge,” H.E. Al Hammadi said, asserting that he has every confidence in the youth’s creativity, innovation, and ability to drive this shift towards the knowledge economy in the UAE.
The Minister urged students to choose specialisations they are passionate about, which would allow them to be innovative in the sector they choose. “University is not the final chapter of education; on the contrary, it marks the beginning of lifelong learning,” he stressed. “We must embrace this philosophy in light of the constant and rapid evolution of the employment market, and with it, of the required skills and knowledge. We must make a habit of reading, learning from other people’s experience and knowledge, and always striving to reflect a positive image of the UAE around the world.”
H.E. Al Hammadi urged young people to attend as many conferences and forums as possible, which the UAE hosts every year and have become renowned in the country and all around the world. He also advised them to be aware and mindful of cybersecurity issues, to always work to preserve the environment, and to contribute in any way they can to ensure the UAE is always at the fore among nations. H.E. invited students to present their ideas to develop the education system in the UAE and make it the best of its kind in the world.
Perseverance and Hard Work
For her part in the same session, Hanan Harhara Al Yafei, Chief Executive Officer of Hub 71, said that 10% of startups in the UAE specialise in education, and despite the great diversity in terms of languages used for developing content in these startups, Arabic remains the primary language. “HUB 71 has launched a platform to enrich Arabic media content dedicated to children, as part of our efforts to help children, their parents, and their educators,” she said.
Al Yafei stressed that entrepreneurs must be passionate about the sectors in which they choose to launch projects. “They must collect information and study every stage of their projects well ahead of launching them,” she explained. “They must identify the challenges that may arise in the future and have the courage to venture into the fields they enjoy without fear. They must work hard, with diligence and integrity, in order to achieve their goals.”
Hard Work and Perseverance Are Key for Success
For her part, H.E. Sana Mohammad Suhail, Head of the Transition Office at the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority, addressed the ‘Frontier Industries’ session, stressing that “Innovation and technology play a prominent role in the early childhood sector.”
“There are many interests, values, and principles that a person develops and that are entrenched in them in their early childhood years – particularly in the first eight years of their lives,” she said. “As the entity tasked with developing the early childhood sector, the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority focuses on four key pillars, namely, early childhood education, health and nutrition, child protection, and family care.”
H.E. advised young people to never set limits to their ambitions and aspirations and to work hard, persevere, and follow their passion to accomplish success: “My advice to you is to pursue a profession with a purpose – a career that makes you feel good. You must go after those dreams that would bring the much needed change our world needs. Celebrating the UAE’s Golden Jubilee reminds us of how important it is to invest in people and prepare them for the future in every sector.”
Creating the Positive Change We Need
Meanwhile, Wendy Kopp, CEO and Co-founder of Teach for All, said: “I have been working for almost a year now to support our network of heroic teachers, educators, and advocates for children as they ensure their students stay safe and continue learning during this era. I think if anything has become clear over these last months, it’s that we need to be preparing this generation of children and young people to lead in an uncertain future.”
“The economy is changing so much – as we have known for some time – but we are also facing increasingly complex and unknowable challenges ahead and really reaching any of our aspirations for a more just and inclusive, peaceful, sustainable society will rest on our developing students as leaders who can shape a better future,” she added.
“That means that we need to be working towards a holistic set of outcomes for kids,” Kopp explained. “We need to be working to ensure their wellbeing, first of all, so that they have the mental health and a sense of belonging to be their full selves. We need to foster their connectedness so that they feel empathy for others and seek to contribute to their wellbeing.”
“We need to foster their awareness of their own selves, their identities, and of the systems around them, so that they can work for change from a place of strength,” she continued. “We need to foster agency so that they own their learning and their paths and seek to influence society. We need to foster mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary for the passions they pursue, and particularly foster their ability to think critically and analyse information.”
A Focus on Lifelong Learning
Also speaking at the session, Ali Matar, Head of LinkedIn EMEA Emerging Markets, Middle East and Africa, highlighted the changes he had witnessed in people’s engagement with LinkedIn – a social network designed specifically for professionals. He outlined what young people should be doing in light of how the novel coronavirus pandemic is transforming the work environment and putting a strong emphasis on learning new skills.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen that engagement on our platform has doubled in many ways, with one of them being learning. We’ve seen members on the platform doubling their activities around taking online courses,” Matar revealed. “COVID-19 is a global pandemic, at the end of the day, and it has had a global impact. There is life before COVID, during COVID, and after COVID, and that in itself has created the Next Normal in different ways. The pandemic has exponentially accelerated the necessity of having digitisation across different verticals and different industries. Recently, we released ‘Jobs on the Rise’, which looks at the data between April and October 2020. We compared it to April and October 2019 and clearly noticed that in 15 categories, the fastest growing skills and jobs involved digitisation and technology.”
“The biggest opportunity we have to focus on today – and we have seen this throughout our data – is that over 150 million tech jobs will be created in the coming five years. That is the future of work; that is where we need to invest today in order to be part of this change,” he advised. “Young people should focus on creating a mindset of always learning. What I would also say to the youth specifically, and youth in general, is to focus on the current situation. Knowing what the future of work requires, investing in yourself becomes your own responsibility. And that is what I would say – always be learning, try to understand what’s happening around you and invest in yourself because you own your career, no one else does.”
Mental Health: Coping with Change
The Majlis continued with a presentation on called Mental Health: Coping with Change. Mental health and wellbeing are important issues for the youth in the UAE, who have expressed concern about spikes in stress and anxiety as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Laurie R. Santos, Professor of Psychology and Head of Silliman College at Yale University, talked about what youth can do to cope in these difficult times, explaining why mental health matters, and stressing the importance of happiness and how it affects job performance and creativity. “It is not just our job, economy, and innovative thinking that seem to rest on our happiness; happiness also affects our immune function,” she stressed.
“If you want to feel happier, you need to find ways to have better social connection,” Dr. Santos told the young audience. “Research shows that we are happier when being social and when we are spending more time with other people – even though this is much trickier during this time of social distancing. We need to find ways to become social but in another respect, where we need to do more for other people. Every available study of happy people suggests that that they are more social, they tend to volunteer their time for causes they care about, and controlled for income, they tend to donate their money. They are more other-oriented that self-oriented.”
Dr. Santos went on to explain to the young participants how they can deal with negative emotions. “Suppressing these emotions can have repercussions such as thinking errors, stress, and harming the body,” she said. “Research shows that if we want to be happier, we need to find ways to be present even with these bad feelings.”
Finding Happiness in Helping and Supporting Others
Speaking in the same session, Khawla Hammad, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Takalam Online Counselling, spoke about the importance of mental health during these challenging times.
Hammad explained that her journey working in this sector began a year ago after a personal experience in which she struggled to find the professional help she needed. “I saw an opportunity and decided to create a solution that would help people access mental health services in a convenient, private and affordable manner,” she said.
“One tip would be to think of mental health as a way of unlocking your potential. The key is knowing how to deal with our feelings and seeking the right support and professional help,” Hammad advised, urging everyone to take mental health more seriously and consider working with professionals. “Through the work I have been doing, I noticed that there is a lot of stress and anxiety caused by not knowing where things are going and what the future will bring.”
“There is a lot of potential for thriving in the ‘Next Normal’; this is the time when you can learn a new skill or take on a new venture,” she concluded.