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Future-ready leaders need an Early Years education rethink

7 Feb |12 : 59

JOURNAL

A changing world is being powered by new modalities of how knowledge is generated and applied. With automation and machine learning coming to the fore, the nature of jobs, human endeavour and applicable knowledge is set for drastic change in the immediate years to come. The World Economic Forum calls this shifting paradigm Industry 4.0 – firmly situating it in the annals of other revolutions that irrevocably altered the means of production over human history.

Each industrial revolution also fundamentally changes the skills and aptitude humans need to gainfully contribute to society. The industrial revolution of the 18th century, for instance, saw mass displacement and unemployment before people found new roles working in symbiotic relationships with rudimentary machines.

Industry 4.0 will be no different. Tomorrow’s workers, and those who lead them, will need to be agile, to pivot, to understand and control technology, and to think laterally. And research shows that early years education is crucial in forming these skills.

Hence why there is now a global spotlight on early years education, with the question foremost of whether, in its current guise, it is fit for purpose in terms of developing the leaders for tomorrow. As science probes further into the inner workings of the human mind, it is now established fact that the brain’s fundamental “wiring” is laid down in the first four years of human development. UNICEF, for instance, has noted that, “The early years of childhood form the basis of intelligence, personality, social behavior, and capacity to learn and nurture oneself as an adult.”

The Study of Early Education And Development (SEED) report for the UK has come to similar conclusions. Its findings support the urgency of imparting effective early years education. The report shows differences in cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes as early as age 4 years for children who have received early years education, regardless of other factors such as household income or disadvantage.
Early years education is important, and getting it future-ready crucial. As the world works to overhaul the carefully-developed education systems of yesteryear, a small country nestled in the Arabian Peninsula is leading the way. The United Arab Emirates – a country merely 47 years young – has always emphasised the importance of leadership. Small wonder, given that all the development schemes that have turned it into a 21st century trade and innovation hub were enacted by visionary leaders – sometimes in the face of scepticism.
The ability to create future leaders, and people imbued with the skills to succeed in a dynamic technological future, is very important to the UAE. In fact, the UAE Vision 2021 places education at the centre of its message when it says: “Education is a fundamental element for the development of a nation and the best investment in its youth.”

The Vision, set out in the National Agenda, also emphasises the importance of developing a first-rate education system, and reserves particular attention to Early Years education.

Words are being backed by action, with significant investment being made in Early Years Education. Responsibility for oversight has also been handed over to the UAE Ministry of Education and away from the more general mandate of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The UAE introduced the first unified framework for nurseries in 2018 to form the basis of a comprehensive childhood education framework. It borrows vignettes from international best practice, referencing outstanding policies in countries such as the UK, Australia and the US, and combining these with the cultural and societal ethos of the UAE.

As the groundwork is being laid to buttress the UAE’s ambitions towards becoming a hub of early learning excellence, the order of the day is a space where these forward agendas can be put into practice – the proof of the pudding, as it were.

Here is where a carefully designed early learning concept is breaking new ground at its home in Emirates Towers. Given the informal appellation of the “The Nursery of the Future,” ORA is nestled amidst a busy concourse of business and retail in the UAE’s corridors of power. Its learning framework is based directly on the guidance set out by the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. The curriculum encompasses Happiness and Positivity; Leadership; Advanced Science and Artificial Intelligence; and Technology and Coding.

ORA puts into practice the precepts of a future-ready Early Years education. From layout and colours to collaborations with partners, the very space itself has been designed from the ground up to provide an immersive learning experience. ORA offers an enquiry-based pedagogical process that puts the child at the centre of their own learning, and aims to develop future leaders by developing curiosity, empathy, communication and resilience. Technology is used as an enabler, with the combination of analog and digital elements creating an immersive environment.

Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has long emphatically argued that children automatically operate at genius level in their early years – by merely exercising natural inquisitiveness and being themselves. It is human intervention and prescriptive frameworks of traditional pedagogical thought that degrade this natural curiosity. ORA takes the opposite route – letting inquisitiveness lead the way, supported by educators who reinforce the learning process, all the while ensuring that core skills and crucial values are learnt along the way.

The future isn’t necessarily far away. In fact, many would argue that Industry 4.0 and its accompanying changes are already rapping smartly on our doors. It now falls to brave new learning spaces such as ORA to answer the summons, and spark a rethink of how we approach crucial learning in a child’s early years.