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Less theory, more practice in education

Experts at a recent seminar in Cairo offered their advice on how students can be better prepared for the job market

Ahmed Kotb , Saturday 22 Feb 2020
Less theory, more practice in education
Education must be connected to the business and industrial sectors

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), more than 172 million people globally were unemployed in 2018, with about 72 million of these aged between 15 and 24. The unemployment rate registered 8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Although one of the major benefits of education is a lower risk of unemployment, many employers worldwide find it difficult to recruit people with the skills they need, which in turn limits their ability to grow and benefit the wider economy.

“There is a huge gap in many societies between what skills students have and what the market needs,” said Howard Thomas, a senior advisor to the European Foundation for Management Development, during an international forum organised on Sunday by the American University in Cairo’s (AUC) School of Business to discuss education and job markets.

Thomas said that technological advances were moving faster than developments in curricula. “There has been a disruption in education programmes due to such technological advances to try to keep up with them and stay relevant,” he said, adding that many online learning programmes have been introduced in recent years to make up for this disruption.

The challenge lay in the resources needed to use more technology in the learning process, he pointed out.

“The question is how education can remain relevant in a time of disruption,” said Sherif Kamel, dean of the AUC’s School of Business. The challenges of the market were almost the same worldwide, but every country or region had its own characteristics.

Kamel said there was no one-size-fits-all education that better prepares students for the job market. “We should think instead about how education is connected to the business and industrial sectors,” he stressed.

The more students go outside the classroom, he explained, the more they have beneficial learning experiences that will help them find more job opportunities after graduation. The focus should be on capacity building and enhancing skills, rather than on just earning a degree.

Hiring is also becoming more based on skills and not just on what qualifications a person might have, Kamel said. “Practical experience really counts,” even if a university degree is still required for most high-level jobs.

Samar Khan, dean of the College of Business at Saudi Arabia’s Effat University, agreed that there should be a balance between what is delivered to students and what they will face in the job market after graduation.

“Curricula are available everywhere today. Information in general has become easier to access compared to 10 or 20 years ago, for example,” she said. The challenge today was how this content was being delivered and how it was linked to skills needed by the job market.

Education content needs to stay relevant and the learning experience needs to be continuously enhanced, she stressed.

“As an employer, I believe that a university degree is important, but we also look at and evaluate several other things in a job candidate,” said Ashraf Bakri, managing director of Unilever Mashreq.

These include personal mastery, agility in thinking, passion for high performance, and customer-satisfaction skills. And education needed to focus more on building character as well as on building knowledge to better prepare students for the job market, he said.

It was also important to balance theory with practice when educating university students, Bakri added.

Virginijus Kundrotas, dean of the Adizes Graduate School in California in the US, said it was very important to teach students collaborative work in order to reach their targets better. Leaders needed to be entrepreneurial, he added, and collaborative leadership was the key to success.

There were still some business leaders around the world who were very skilled but refused to share their knowledge with their colleagues, Kundrotas said. “This mindset has to be changed,” he added.

“In the next 10 years, 90 per cent of jobs will be re-created,” said Somaya Al-Sherbini, co-founder of Right Foot, a human resources company helping businesses to thrive in a technology-driven environment.

She explained that future jobs will require greater problem solving, creative thinking, collaboration, and collaborative leadership skills. Changes were happening at a very fast pace, she said, and universities were facing challenges in keeping up with these in preparing students for the job market.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.


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