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Poor education systems and youth unemployment are big issues for Middle East, experts say

DUBAI // Education systems in the Middle East must improve and the root causes of youth ­unemployment have to be tackled, experts say.

A panel on Wednesday responded to the findings of the Arab Youth Survey saying public schools in the region were not preparing young Arabs for the challenges of the future jobs market.

“Curricula are a big problem in this region,” said Roy Haddad, director of WPP Mena. “When you have curricula that have not changed for 40 or 50 years and you have our children using the same textbooks as their parents, then that is a problem.”

His comments came after the survey of 3,500 young people from across the region found that almost half felt the education system in their countries did not prepare them for jobs of the future.

Mohamed Alabbar, founder and chairman of Emaar, said private schools were generally better than government-run schools in the region but were ­financially out of reach for the vast majority of young Arabs.

“Unemployment is not just an issue in our region, it’s a problem in the US, China and India, so we are not unique in that ­respect,” Mr Alabbar said. “Unfortunately, governments in this region are not really managing education well.”

He urged Middle East countries to look at those in South America and Asia, which have developed economies without oil.

Mr Alabbar said the region had been slow to address the issue but countries in the GCC had developed plans to improve the quality of education, and other states in the region should follow their example.

Sheikha Hanadi bint Nasser Al Thani, founder and chairwoman of Qatari investment company Amwal, said there were wide differences in unemployment levels in the region.

“We have high unemployment with women but there is also regional variation, with only 17 per cent employed in Algeria compared with 55 per cent employed in Qatar,” she said.

Fadi Ghandour, co-founder and executive chairman at ­entrepreneurial platform Wamda, said employment was not an issue only for governments.

“We always say that governments should do more, but we don’t ask what can the private sector and civil society do to help,” he said.

“This is an issue that needs highlighting because it is one that is the responsibility for society as a whole.”

Mr Ghandour also questioned whether the region may be too late to put in place the education infrastructure the growth in the digital space demands.

“Most of the technology is not even 10 years old and the digital space moves so fast that maybe it is not too late, but we need the education systems in place to take advantage of that,” he said.

Sheikha Hanadi said the ­issue of unemployment raised by young people in the survey also tied in with the rise of ISIL.

“We know that radicalism rises from a lack of hope and dignity, and that is what we must focus on,” she said.

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