Education is a strategic priority for leaders in the GCC countries, with significant investments being made to reform educational system as the region moves ahead with its transition into a knowledge-based economy. A recent World Bank report reveals that despite the region’s heavy investment in education, the returns were modest. The GCC countries have spent an average of five per cent of their GDPs on education, spearheaded by the UAE Federal Government, which allocated about 25 per cent of its federal budget for education. The report also indicates that the GCC countries have initially focused on establishing mass education systems, building schools, recruiting teachers, training instructors and upgrading their curriculum. Expenditure on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in education has also been recently increased, which has made it the fastest growing of all categories of educational spending. Progress has been realized with the deployment of ICT in several areas of education systems. ICT was introduced in the management of education systems to improve the quality of administrative activities and processes, including human resource management, student registration, monitoring of student enrollment and achievement, and planning. ICT was also introduced as a new academic subject, and was also integrated with school curricula to mould with traditional education, such as instruction in the classroom through the use of software or resources on the Internet. That said, UNESCO warns that the region is likely to face a challenge in recruiting the number of qualified teachers needed to meet the demand by 2015. The challenge is more pertinent for countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Jamil Ezzo, Director General, ICDL GCC Foundation commented, “The introduction of ICT in education must go hand-in-hand with a change of culture within the body of our educational establishments beginning with our educators. To combat the current and foreseen challenges of our fast-changing world, upgrading the skills of our teachers must take priority in our region. Teachers must also be equipped with the necessary training and support to effectively acquire computer skills and adopt them to the teaching and learning processes as well as their administrative duties.” The World Bank report also notes that the MENA region spends more on average in terms of public expenditure per student at all levels of education compared to other regions. Despite the aggressive spending on education, the report still shows that the GCC's education system has yet to achieve its full capacity to produce graduates with the skills and expertise necessary to compete with other regions. "To expedite the transition to a knowledge-based society, the adaptation of best practices and integration of more practical training programs in academic subjects that are based on well-established international qualifications, assessment systems, and quality assurance mechanisms, including certification and accreditation, has become a crucial component to match the ever-changing and complex demands of the job market. Although we are impressed with the region’s progress in the implementation of a computer literacy standard for employees of education ministries, we are keen to work with education ministries across the GCC to incorporate the ICDL standard into the curriculum; examples of which include Oman" added Ezzo. © 2008 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )