Published on Arab Voices

Education reform to create entrepreneurs

 dotshock l Shutterstock.comThe demographic clock is ticking on both sides of the Mediterranean, from an aging workforce at one end to a workforce surplus on the other. Yet, whatever the demographic dynamics, the Mediterranean area is facing an incredible challenge, that of providing a safe, buoyant and prosperous future for its youth, one which would benefit its societies, their economic development, and progress.

One cannot think of building a thriving future for youth without addressing two main challenges: the first one is education and how to prepare young people for the jobs of tomorrow that do not exist today; and the second is building the economy of tomorrow, the digital economy, the fastest growing sector worldwide, the main driver of innovation and economic growth for the next 50 years.

Both challenges are, in fact, interrelated, and the framework of the education challenge we are facing is best defined in relation to entrepreneurship. The skills and values of entrepreneurship are very clear: problem solving, critical thinking, team work and risk taking. Needless to say these traits are very different from the skills provided by the region’s current educational systems and programs, which are in dire need of reform.
Reform is always more easily said than done, but this one is not administrative or curricular: it involves a change of attitude and mentality, and the weight of the entire community behind it, not just educational institutions.

Over 40% of the region’s entrepreneurs say finding the right skills is the top challenge in their hiring process, and most of these skills are soft skills like the ones mentioned above, critical thinking, autonomy in their work, team spirit. As US opinion writer, Thomas Friedman, puts it, “the world is flat” and, as a result, knowledge no longer has a competitive edge. Perseverance, curiosity, and risk taking do.
So how do you build these skills into a school curriculum and local mentality? By rewarding the youth who use them and by having schools that engage youth in community building activities, making the school the heart of the community. The thinking is that human and social engagement within the school and with the community are often critical, not only to build entrepreneurial skills in young adults but also to give them a sense of purpose.

One such example of engagement is a closer relationship with the private sector and a tighter bond with companies, start-ups, and the job market, especially for secondary school students, as well as students in technical schools and universities. While there is no simple recipe for success, many experiences of private sector involvement in schools have led to a good match between educational expectations and the realities of employment. Young people can be very creative as long as they are given the right opportunities to discover new professions and put their energy to work.

The importance of routing the youth into a proper job becomes even bigger if we take into account the fact that there is competition for Mediterranean youth. Locally, conflicts and influence groups have identified them as vulnerable targets to recruit; a recent World Bank overview maintains youth consider the lack of jobs and opportunities the number one driver of recruitment for the Islamic State.
And, internationally, the war for talent might also deprive the Mediterranean region of its best role models, as many young people flee in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The top three countries Arab youth say they would like to live in, given the opportunity, are the United Arab Emirates, followed by the United States and Germany.

The diversity of resources and talent around the Mediterranean, together with the area’s central geographical location, make it an ideal space for innovation and entrepreneurship. The timing of the changes required is now as the digital economy is considered an exponential force that could provide the Mediterranean with unprecedented opportunities for economic growth, but only if the right investment in education and entrepreneurship are made no later than today.


Hala Fadel

Founding Partner, Leap Ventures & Chair, MIT Enterprise Forum of the Pan-Arab Region

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