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Study finds GCC pupils place less importance on Stem than expat peers

ABU DHABI // Pupils from the GCC are less likely than their expatriate peers to consider science as necessary to future employment, a new study has found.

And the more educated GCC parents are, local pupils are more likely to believe they do not need science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) skills to get their desired job later in life.

Family connections are often considered more important among Gulf families when youth are in school or looking for jobs after graduation, said Dr Alexander Wiseman, co-author of the study published in Digest of Middle East Studies.

“Wasta is an important cultural phenomenon in the Gulf, and this among other factors contributes to these kinds of results among Gulf nationals,” he said.

However, in the UAE, the more educated the parents, the more the pupils will think that Stem is important to their future prospects.

“It’s a small impact, but an important one that may be slightly different than the overall Gulf trend,” Dr Wiseman said.

The study used statistics from the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which evaluated science skills of Grade 8 pupils in more than 60 countries.

Then, they segregated the data according to citizenship, and compared the results between local and expatriate populations within GCC countries.

The results showed that expatriate pupils outperformed locals in science and exceeded the international average score by 41 points.

When assessing the link between achievement in sciences with future job prospects, only Omani pupils were more likely to respond that they needed to do well in science to get a job, compared to non-nationals.

Across the GCC, “non-nationals who have neither parent born in country have the highest reported mean expectations that they will get a job using science”, the study found.

“According to the data, pupils in the UAE tend to link Stem education with future job opportunities the least when both parents are Emirati, and the most when both parents are expats or non-nationals,” said Dr Wiseman, of Lehigh University in the US, who co-authored the study with researchers from University of Dammam and King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

Parents’ education level had a positive effect on pupils’ performance in science, but a negative impact on their perception of the link between Stem skills and job prospects.

The researchers suggested that this could be because as pupils’ socio-economic status rises, ” they are able to rely more on non-education-related factors, such as family influence or connections”.

However, Dr Wiseman said that the data also suggested that Stem education and teaching techniques using technology were useful among Emiratis and other GCC nationals.

“In other words, technology in schools does seem to have an impact on Emiratis’ likelihood to engage in lifelong learning and critical thinking in their future jobs,” he said.

Sarah Shaer, associate researcher at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government, said recent education reforms had helped to improve pupils’ understanding of the value of Stem since the 2011 TIMSS results were released.

“In the UAE now, attitudes toward Stem among high school pupils and university students are actually quite positive,” said Ms Shaer, who published her own research on Stem education in Abu Dhabi last year.

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(via The National)