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At the Global Education and Skills forum 2018, Simon Schama offered some poignant reminders on the endless chain of memories that we are all inheritors of and the way they shape our future. In commemorating the UAE’s journey of education development initiated by his Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan on 2 December 1971; I reflect on how collaborative society traits united the UAE and how it became the responsibility of each member of the community, each school, each family, to realise the vision of Sheikh Zayed. What a wonderful modern day definition of the Latin word for culture, ‘colere’ which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivate and nurture.

The land on which we all live today has indeed shaped us, but since what is described as the tipping point of 2007, technology has very quickly created the distance between our mental and physical space, it has created new undefined borders across countries; communities, families, schools and friendship groups, posing a direct threat to our culture.  Heading to every Year 7 across the world this September is a generation who is considered to have been born into the most technology in history. When considering the speed of change posed by technological advancements, we have the greatest challenge to our society.

When we consider the shining examples of the Singapore policy reform and their long-term approach to holistic learner attainment and comparative tests, the time lapse between educational reform and learner impact gives us a stark reality check on the 10 years taken for each phase to impact. A similar paradox of centralised/ decentralisation was embedded into the education reform system of Vietnam, a country who showed remarkable PISA scores in 2012 and 2015 whilst being one of the poorest countries. Research by the Education Development Trust and Vietnam Institute of Educational Sciences showed that the quality and equity of education can improve if education is enacted in every part of daily life. Outside the school, a pro-education culture set the aspiration and expectation at the community level and within families, interestingly mandated by policy to harness the power of parent partnerships. This fascinating approach has really shone a light on the success of collaborative accountability top down and bottom up, in embedding important values, developing character and an aspirational culture to cultivate student agency.

Indeed, time is the common denominator of all our educational achievements, existence, differences and similarities and how we spend that precious commodity of time with family and at school shapes our path to fulfilment and achievement.

Do you think Zahra Lari the UAE’s first professional figure skater was born with ice skates on her feet? It takes time to be great at something, the greater you become, the more time it takes to get there. Malcolm Gladwell made the claim in numerical terms, 10,000 hours is approximately 417 days. If you devote 3 hours a day it would be approximately 3333 days or little over 9 years. What if our Year 7 students are already halfway to achieving 10,000 hours of interaction with a device that reduces their time spending quality time with family and/or friends, creates less time for physical activity, can cause sleep problems and have been strongly associated with mental health problems?  Despite spending his life creating one of the world’s biggest technology empires, Steve Jobs took a fairly strict view on gadgets when it came to his own children. There’s no surprise here when we consider the negative impact of too much time spent away from human interaction.

The colliding competition for children’s attention from a device to the attention of a loving family or friendship is the big elephant in everyone’s family home. I hear a collective call to action; let’s shift the power away from technology to the power of parent partnerships to create a systematic approach to time well spent, the type of purposeful practice that our children need to develop the human skills and qualities to achieve their life purpose and personal.

By: Zoe Griffiths

Zoe Griffiths is a former international athlete, authentic leader and socially responsible entrepreneur with sustainability rooting all that she does.  Zoe is currently serving as regional director of Life Learning; a NZ educational consultancy based in Dubai.