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Dubai and UAE working hard to maintain progress
Published on November 22, 2008 By PranayGupte In International

By Francis Matthew, Editor at Large, Gulf News, Dubai
Published: November 19, 2008, 23:15

The UAE has a very young population which has been educated from a curriculum which is global and outward-looking in spirit, in contrast to some other countries in the region which have fostered more conservative and inward-looking schooling or more Islamic curriculums. The widespread awareness of the outside world in the UAE is a vital asset that the country will be able to benefit from in the next few decades as the 20-somethings grow up to become 40-somethings and take their full places in the community and business world.

The fact that the government has committed to world-standard education and wants the young people of today to be confident Gulf Arabs in a global world, and that the UAE population agrees that this is what they want, makes for a powerful harmony as the country moves into the next two decades. It gives the UAE a strong sense of social security which allows it to face the continuing turbulence in the region with some confidence.

Obviously, not everything is perfect, and in the rush to develop the UAE's government schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the country grew so fast through the 1980s and 1990s, far too much learning by rote was introduced, and not enough encouragement of original thinking. This has been recognised and the process of improving the curriculum and teaching in the secondary schools is now underway.

The population statistics are startling, and make it very clear how the young people growing up today will become the major force in UAE society, who in time, by force of numbers, will take over and define what the country will be like. This is when the years of education and global awareness will play an essential part in determining how these people will think, and how the country will go forward to the second half of the 21st Century.

In 2005, 525,400 UAE nationals were under 25 years old, making 64 per cent of the total UAE national population of just under 826,000. This was out of a total population of 4.1 million including expatriates.

Looking ahead, a projection by GRMC shows that, in 2020, an expected 911,000 UAE nationals will be under 40 years old, which will be about 76 per cent of the total population of 1.2 million UAE nationals. At that time, the total population of the UAE is expected to be close to 8.9 million people, including expatriates and nationals.

This means that in 2020, three quarters of the UAE nationals will be under 40, and their view of the world will have been formed by the decade we are living through at the moment. They will have been brought up in a UAE that will be a modern and fast-growing nation and they will not remember the UAE before the large-scale development started.

The projection shows that in 2020, a remarkably low amount of just over 150,000 UAE nationals will be over 50 years, which is just under 13 per cent of the national population. Only this very small section of the UAE population will have been born before 1970 and will be able to remember what life was like before oil wealth transformed the country. In fact, the proportion will be a lot less than 13 per cent, since it will include the babies of the late 1960s, who will have very little social memory of their early years.

This is why the UAE government and nationals are working hard to take steps to shore up their national identity. Not only are they a minority in their own country, but they are also a population which is in danger of slipping away from their roots unless effective action is taken today, while there is still a large proportion of the population who remember what it was like.

In addition to supporting traditional cultural and sports programmes, the social fabric itself needs to be cared for, since the greatly expanded cities of the UAE and the much busier pace of life make the formerly easy interaction through many open majlis in private homes increasingly rare.

But the vital key to success lies in good teaching of the Arabic language, so that the young people of today grow up sure of their mother tongue, and are able to express themselves fully in their own language. In the past decade, this has been a major gap in the country's education system; so today schools and colleges are rushing to try to put it right. This also means that Arabic should become more widespread in daily life throughout the UAE and many more expatriates will have to learn the language.

The social shift towards the wave of young UAE nationals is inevitable as they grow up. What is happening today is that the aspirations of that future dominant force are being shaped. The UAE's great opportunity is that the government and population agree they are on the right track in embracing a global outlook, while also nurturing their own identity.

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