Opinion and Editorial

Aligning education with skills is key to progress

Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori
Filed on November 2, 2020

(LEJEANVRE Philippe / Alamy Stock Photo)

China focuses on specialised skills with practical training related to the needs of the labour market, while maintaining academic skills among students.

Years ago, major international companies outsourced work to China merely for cheap labour. For decades, China benefitted from the huge numbers of averagely qualified workers. However, according to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, China knew before anyone else that the future is built on skills. Therefore, it worked silently and rapidly to establish itself as a country that provides skilled labour, not cheap labour. This has been one of the most important secret activities of the Chinese powerhouses during the last two decades.

How did China achieve this makeover?

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) answered this question in a report titled, Vocational Education and Training in China: Strengths, Challenges and Policy Options. The report reflects that China has adopted an educational system based on the smart integration between educational outcomes and the labour market. The most prominent features of the new educational system in China as listed by the report are establishing a nine-year-schooling programme for all children and transferring 50 per cent of secondary school students to vocational education. This percentage is governed by a legally binding public policy.

Moreover, China focuses on specialised skills with practical training related to the needs of the labour market, while maintaining the general academic skills and providing financial incentives to encourage competition among students to enrol in the vocational and skills education.

What happened next?

Developments in digital technology accelerated, and the world faced an unprecedented and severe need for a new generation of skills. When the major international companies searched for skilled workers capable of running modern production, based on smart and accurate technologies, they found them in China.

This was the Chinese experience, which benefitted everyone and taught vital lessons.

A study published in the digital library of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), elaborates on this topic. It can be summarised in one sentence — today, we need a new type of education that adapts to a different type of students, for a radically different life.

Today’s (and tomorrow’s) skills are mostly digital, thus all eyes are on IT graduates. They are the knights of the desired change, and we must prepare them in order to lead the way in all sectors, not just the government sector.

According to the Unesco report, yesterday’s education is no longer valid, so what about tomorrow?!

We will continue this discussion in the next column.

Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori is the Head of Digital Government and Director General, TRA

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