LONDON—The Arab World is underinvesting in the digital economy, Amr Ezzat Salama told the Middle East Education Thought Leadership Forum here on Wednesday.
Salama, who is secretary general of the Association of Arab Universities, said Arab countries invested 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the digital economy, whereas developed countries invested 22 percent of GDP.
He told delegates to the forum, convening in a London hotel along with more than 2,000 other virtual participants, that Arab countries must invest more in the digital economy, especially artificial intelligence.
He noted that the Association of Arab Universities had concluded an agreement with the Arab Federation for Digital Economy and the Arab Administrative Development Organisation to establish an Arab digital platform for education and training.
“Today in the Arab world we have nearly 100 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29,” a group that suffers from high unemployment rates, he said. “It is estimated that the number of jobs that Arab countries need to create exceeds 60 million over the next three decades.”
“It is estimated that the number of jobs that Arab countries need to create exceeds 60 million over the next three decades.”Amr Ezzat Salama Secretary general of the Association of Arab Universities
Salama said this will require a shift in thinking about education to preparing students for a new type of economy.
The knowledge economy does not need fixed skills but continuous learning of new skills to adapt to a changing job market, he said. More than 50 percent of jobs in the future will be automated, the remaining jobs are mainly unknown because they will be new economic activity related to technology.
Low Spending on Research
Salama also criticised a lack of investment in scientific research in Arab countries, where spending does not exceed 1 percent of total income while it is closer to 3 percent in Europe and North America. The private sector contributed 3 percent of total funding in Arab countries, 52 to 70 percent in developed countries, and 80 percent in Japan.
Salama said the Arab world had to find a formula for joint Arab institutional cooperation between the education, scientific research, economic, financial and investment sectors and technology companies so they all pushed towards digital economic development.
“Student expectations are changing in today’s digital age as students want to choose what they learn and how, where and when they learn. Online courses or blended formats are becoming new ways to meet their individual needs and interests,” he said.
The Future of Education
Other speakers on Wednesday, the first day of the three-day forum, discussed ideas about improving education and learning opportunities at all levels.
Asmaa Alfadala, director of research and development at WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education, established by Qatar Foundation, spoke about the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alfadala said she hoped teaching in schools never went back to pre-pandemic ways, because it had made teachers try new methods. Children did not learn in the same way.
“We need to redesign the school around actual student learning rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom.”Asmaa Alfadala Director of research and development at WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education
Social and emotional integration are integral to teaching, she said, and the focus has to be shifted from traditional teaching to those who are learning.
“We need to redesign the school around actual student learning rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom,” said Alfadala, who is a University of Cambridge graduate and a former teacher.
Michael Murphy, president of the European University Association, spoke about global perspectives on the future of higher education.
He said the European University Association, with input from more than 100 experts from academia, the business community and civic society, had come up with a vision called “Universities Without Walls.”
“Students and staff must mirror in every way possible the diversity of their society,” he said.
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Study was no longer just for 18- to 22-year-old students, but for a lifetime, Murphy said. Most people now have to change careers several times during their lives. Students and citizens needed to design their own learning portfolios.
“University staff must move between the campus and the workplace, keeping their content up to speed and staff skills up to date,” Murphy said.
He concluded: If universities do not change, governments and society will make sure they do.