Commentary

STEM: The Next Generation

STEM: The Next Generation

(This post is part of a wider Horizon Scanning piece. To get full access, please register here or call +971 4 425 7967.)

In 2015, the UAE announced its Mars Probe mission, which will send the Arab world’s first spacecraft to the red planet in a scientific exploration mission that will land in 2021. In 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan unveiled the “Mars 2117 Project” which aims at its final stage to establish the first inhabitable human settlement in Mars by 2117. This ambitious project was launched on the sideline of the 5th World Government Summit, and set to be developed and executed in partnership with major international scientific research institutions.

“The Mars 2117 Project is a long-term project, where our first objective is to develop our educational system so our sons will be able to lead scientific research across the various sectors,” Sheikh Mohamed said. “The objective of the research is to contribute in facilitating people lives on earth as well, mainly in the domains of transportation, energy and food”. In the same month, and on March 11th, during the inaugural Mohammed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed told a group of over 3,000 UAE youth that the future relies on their skills. “The future of the UAE will not come through oil”.

The forum started when Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, stood up to warn that the era of comfortable” government jobs was coming to an end. “You are no longer competing amongst yourselves, but with the greatest minds around the world,” he told the audience.

The message is clear. Emiratis are encouraged to move away from government jobs, and – more importantly- move away from business and finance courses in their studies (seen as preparation for a government job). They are encouraged to pursue science, technology and mathematics. Sheikh Mohammed particularly singled out engineering: “We cannot have enough of it,” he said.

The UAE leadership is so concerned about educating the new generation, and willing to pour vast quantities of resources into education. It stems from a belief that a diverse, globally focused knowledge economy is the best security, even in a turbulent region.

This trend and future STEM focus is not unique to the UAE, it is a global trend.

A recent FT [Financial Times] article by Rana Forhoor noted that for future jobs, whatever they study, students must graduate with basic science, technology, engineering and maths skills.

The UAE’s space programme aims to inspire innovation and spur further diversification of the country’s economy. The mission to Mars hopes to promote a focus on STEM education and attract more nationals to specialise in these fields.

It aims to inspire thousands of Emiratis to pursue careers in the space industry and related STEM fields. Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society, said the government was encouraging Emiratis to “become a pioneer and an explorer of new worlds. The 40-year-old men and women who built the computer industry in the US in the 1990s were the little 10 & 12-year-old boys in the 1960s who were inspired to enter science by our Apollo programme.”

This is an excerpt from a Horizon Scanning entry titled “Mission to Mars is More About Stem Education Than A Star Trek”. To get full access, please register here or call +971 4 425 7967.