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Islamic and Arab culture lost in UAE's foreign schools

Western higher education has been packaged as a superior model and sold to developing nations since the 1980s.

By Afshan Ahmed / 20 Apr 2013

They are being overwhelmed in all levels of education with concepts that are not adapted to the local culture, in what Dr Eugenie Samier describes as "intellectual imperialism".

The associate professor of management and leadership at the British University in Dubai has written a paper on the issue, which will soon be published in Interchange, a quarterly education review journal.

"If you are going to educate Emirati citizens to be leaders with only the western models, I regard that as a cultural-security issue," said Dr Samier.

"We cannot educate a generation of leaders to operate with only western values and cultural norms and ethics that do not help them relate to Arab traditions and Islam."

Western higher education has been packaged as a superior model and sold to developing nations since the 1980s. Local sensibilities and knowledge were marginalised and sometimes lost.

"Topics such as management and leadership studies are being taught often without no change at all, so the students are getting an American, British or Australian transplanted curriculum," said Dr Samier.

The core Arab value system, including religion and history, does not exist in course work at most foreign campuses.

"The first thing I was told when I got here was never talk about religion or politics in the class," said Dr Samier, who joined the British University two years ago, and is a lecturer at the University of Birmingham and visiting fellow at Oxford Brookes University.

"How can you teach management studies if you cannot talk about Sharia? The legal system is based on it and they need to understand."

Centuries-old Bedouin traditions of leadership and authority, along with Islamic principles of behaviour, provided a highly functional form of handling conflict through meditation and arbitration, according to Andrea Rugh, author of The Political Culture of Leadership.

Dr Samier said students needed to be taught to delve into their intellectual heritage to incorporate different strategies.

The preserving and nurturing of national identity has long been urged by both government and education officials.

Dr Maryam Lootah, assistant professor of political science at UAE University, raised a similar topic in her paper on education in the UAE published in 2011.

"If one's students are encultured and socialised by foreign curriculum and teaching, does the capacity still exist for independent policymaking?" Dr Lootah asked.

For Zayed University student Eman Salah, who is completing research on leadership curriculums in the UAE and their relevance to cultural and Islamic values, the answer is no.

Ms Salah said Islamic work ethics and leadership strategies had not received much mention in her classes but could easily be integrated into business schools and management programmes.

"For example, transformational theories talk about moral values: how leaders should be visionary and motivating and aligning service to a vision," she said.

"With Islamic leadership lessons we could study those like Sheikh Zayed, a good Islamic leader whose behaviour and approach can be emulated."

Linking theories to local examples would also help to make an international curriculum more accessible to for Emirati and other Arab students, Ms Salah said.

Dr Rania Kamla, who teaches accountancy at the Dubai branch of Heriot-Watt University, said the dominance of a single model of education was a global challenge.

"Even in the West they are losing out on alternative viewpoints and ways of doing things," said Dr Kamla.

She said her university had acknowledged the issue and was trying to address it. Next year, an Islamic accounting module will be introduced to the accounting and finance course at the university.

Dr Kamla said very little research had been done on the issue in the Arab world, which was the first step in finding effective solutions.

Many of Dr Samier's Emirati doctoral students have started researching ways to incorporate more local material.

"I make sure my Emirati students know that a lot of western traditions are built on Arabic and Islamic scholarship,"she said."I have also introduced a lot of Emirati reading material and Arab authors' books for reference."


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