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Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms

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Modern Diplomacy advises that in Iraq: an Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children is nowadays a requirement that is not only to prepare people for life, with all knowledge and skills to contribute to a thriving society. It is to be noted that Iraq historically witnessed writing in its earliest form as a means of communication and education, etc.

The above image is for illustration and is of Middle East Monitor.

A girl student in Basra, Iraq, who benefits from a UNICEF/WFP education stipend programme. UNICEF

Iraq: An Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children

By Newsroom

Learning levels in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and are likely to decline even further because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education service delivery, including prolonged school closures.

These low learning levels are putting the future of Iraqi children and the country at risk. A new World Bank report says that while, now more than ever, investments are needed in education to recover lost learning and turn crisis into opportunity, these investments must be accompanied by a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses the system on learning outcomes and builds a more resilient education system for all children. 

The World Bank Group’s new report, Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path, builds on key priorities in education recently identified in the Government of Iraq’s White Paper and the World Bank Group’s Addressing the Human Capital Crisis: A Public Expenditure Review for Human Development Sectors in Iraq report, and provides actionable reform recommendations to boost learning and skills.

Human capital is essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. However, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), a child born in Iraq today will reach, on average, only 41% of their potential productivity when they grow up. 

At the heart of Iraq’s human capital crisis is a learning crisis, with far-reaching implications. Iraq’s poor performance on the HCI is largely attributed to its low learning levels. COVID-19 has led to intermittent school closures across Iraq, impacting more than 11 million Iraqi students since February 2020. This report highlights that, with schools closed over 75% of the time and opportunities for remote learning limited and unequal, Iraqi children are facing another reduction of learning‑adjusted years of schooling. Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a “lost year” of learning. 

Iraq can use lessons learned from the current health crisis, turn recovery into opportunity, and “build forward better,” to ensure it provides learning opportunities for all Iraqi children especially its poorest and most vulnerable children” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is ready to support Iraq in building a more equitable and resilient post-COVID-19 education system that ensures learning for all children and generates the dividends for faster and more inclusive growth”.  

The report Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path puts forward for discussion sector-wide reform recommendations, focusing on immediate crisis response as well as medium and long-term needs across six key strategic areas:  

1. Engaging in an Emergency Crisis response through the mitigation of immediate learning loss and prevention of further dropouts.

2. Improving foundational skills to set a trajectory for learning through improved learning & teaching materials and strengthened teacher practices with a focus on learning for all children.

3. Focusing on the most urgently needed investments, while ensuring better utilization of resources.

4. Improving the governance of the education sector and promoting evidence‑based decision‑making.

5. Developing and implementing an education sector strategy that focuses on learning and “building forward better”.

6. Aligning skills with labor market needs through targeted programs and reforms.

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Architectural professions top list of elite occupations

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Dezeen reports that in the United Kingdom architectural professions top the list of all elite occupations.
For millennia, humans make and build the most things in the world, but also contaminate it the most, as it is getting more and more obvious these latter days. Would this impact this article’s assertion if generalised to the rest of the world, mean that those privileged society elites are responsible for what we got now?

In any case, here is :

Architectural professions top list of elite occupations in the UK

By Lizzie Crook 

A report by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre has found that architecture is among the most privileged industries in the UK.

The report, titled Social Mobility in the Creative Economy, reveals that 73 per cent of workers in the architecture industry are classed as privileged.

This means architectural careers such as architects, town planning officers and technicians rank as number one in the study’s list of the 25 most elite occupations in the UK.

The report also found that class-based exclusion is more prominent in the creative industries than in other sectors of the economy, with other creative occupations ranking in the top 25 including artists, journalists and musicians.

Architecture sector “dominated by the privileged”

“Creative occupations such as architects; journalists and editors; musicians; artists; and producers and directors are, in fact, as dominated by the privileged as doctors, dentists, lawyers and judges,” the report states.

“They are even more elite than management consultants and stockbrokers.”

The report also found that in 2020, those from privileged backgrounds were twice as likely to be employed in the creative industries as those from working-class backgrounds (9.8 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively.)

A graphic from the report revealing architecture as the most privileged industry, courtesy of the PEC and Green-Doe Graphic Design

The Social Mobility in the Creative Economy report was carried out by Heather Carey, Dave O’Brien and Olivia Gable as part of a three-year programme led by the Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) exploring class in the creative industries.

The statistics draw on a Labour Force Survey from July to September 2020. These surveys are carried out quarterly by the Office for National Statistics to record the UK population’s employment circumstances.

In the report, privilege is defined as people who had at least one parent who worked in a “higher or lower managerial, administrative or professional occupation” when they were 14 years old.

This references the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC), which clusters various occupations together into eight groups. The report considers those who belong to groups I or II, which includes doctors, CEOs and lawyers, to be privileged.

One in four creative roles filled by working class people

The report also states that in 2020 just one in four people working in the creative industries sector were from lower socio-economic backgrounds and this has remained largely unchanged since 2014.

This means that the UK’s creative industries would need to employ 250,000 more working-class people to become as socio-economically diverse as the rest of the economy.

A graphic showing the difference in socio-economic diversity between the creative industries and the rest of the economy 

“To put this figure in perspective, this deficit is greater in scale than the size of the creative workforce in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined,” the report states.

As such, the authors of the report have also called on the government and industry to adopt a 10-point plan to establish a socially inclusive creative economy.

Recommendations include prioritising creating fair foundations for success and widening access to higher education, eliminating unpaid internships and accelerating the progression of diverse talent.

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The Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’

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EGYPTIAN STREETS in its ARTS & CULTURE posted a commemorative article on how Hassan Fathy, the Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’ developed against the then ongoing trends of modernism. Did he contribute in his own specific way to the birth of the Post-Modern movement? One wonders but lets us first have a look at this story.

The image above is of one of the architect’s achievements.

The Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’: Hassan Fathy And Why His Vision Still Matters

By Amina Zaineldine

25 September 2021

“[Some] saw him as a lonely guru, reminiscent of Old Testament prophets, promising that the world would reap misery for not listening to the truth of his message.”

These words, written in a study dedicated to Hassan Fathy’s legacy, paint a mysterious picture of the life and work of the controversial, yet highly celebrated, Egyptian architect. But who was he, and what makes him stand out until today as one of the most unique, timeless, and internationally recognized Egyptian architects of all time?

Born in 1900 in Alexandria to an upper-middle class family, one notable peculiarity in Fathy’s six-decade career is that much of his work – including New Gourna, the village that became his best-known project – was neither urban nor for the well-to-do.

The New Gourna Mosque by Hassan Fathy

Located in Luxor, New Gourna was a prime example of the philosophy ingrained in Fathy’s designs. Architecture, he believed, was for human beings. At the core of his concepts were the needs of those who would use his buildings. In the case of New Gourna and many of his other projects, those who used his buildings were Egypt’s rural poor, whom he centred in most of his work.

“We need a system that allows the traditional way of cooperation to work in our society. We must subject technology and science to the economy of the poor and penniless,” said Fathy, who became known as ‘the architect of the poor’.

His work also rejected many elements of internationalist modernism and embraced traditional styles, approaches, and materials, believing that they were best suited for the environment. He valued indigenous insights on architecture and believed that they were there for a reason; a direct result of indigenous needs.

While building New Gourna, for example, he championed cultural authenticity by using mud bricks as his main building material and designing domed ceilings as is common in Upper Egypt.

The design of buildings in New Gourna by Hassan Fathy.

Fathy, whose work focused on developing countries, the Arab and Muslim world, and particularly Egypt, believed that straying too far from traditional concepts and instead opting for culturally alien designs and materials, would with time encroach on the indigenous cultural identity.

These beliefs marginalised Fathy for some time within the Egyptian community of architects, which initially did not fully accept his rejection of modernism, but Fathy was immovable. Eventually, still within his lifetime, he was vindicated.

Gradually, more and more people in Egypt and the rest of the world began to see that what he was proposing was a different, more locally-centred form of modernism, which is far more sustainable and likely to preserve unique cultural identities.

Fathy was honoured many times for his work and architectural philosophy, receiving awards such as the first Aga Khan Chairman’s Award ever given, as well as the Right Livelihood Award in the first year of its inception, both in 1980. His book, Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt, in which he evaluates and discusses his project at New Gourna years after it was built, has become a staple for architecture students around the world.

Hassan Fathy’s Dar al-Islam Mosque in New Mexico.

Today, over three decades after Fathy’s death, his ideas are still proving to be relevant and insightful, perhaps even more than in his own day: for all the excitement about Egypt’s current construction boom, with developments in new urban centers such as the New Administrative Capital or New Alamein City, some are voicing concerns very similar to the core of Fathy’s message of humanism, cultural authenticity, and sustainability.

With expensive, modernist designs that do not tie in local designs or materials, Fathy’s words from 1969 are recalled:

“In modern Egypt, there is no indigenous style. The signature is missing; the houses of rich and poor alike are without character, without an Egyptian accent,” he writes in his book Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt. “The tradition is lost, and we have been cut off from our past ever since Mohammed Ali cut the throat of the last Mamluk.

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QF stemming the brain drain

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A Qatar based media The Peninsula dwelt on how a local institution Qatar Foundation aka QF is stemming the brain drain meaning of earlier times. Qatar representing 0.10% of the total MENA region land area could perhaps be only doing that to the same proportion. Is it still worth it? Another hiccup would be that of the increasingly divested from and diminishing fossil fuels export-related revenues; could these be that helpful at the same rate in the future, be it near or far? In any case, let us see what it is all about.

The image above is for illustration only and is of the Qatar Foundation headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

QF stemming the brain drain

The Peninsula

Doha: In the past decades, many of the MENA region’s best Arab scientists, inventors, engineers, designers, and innovators left their home countries for better opportunities in the West.

While the reasons for the “brain drain” in this part of the world have been varied, many of these talented youth cite a lack of support and resources as their reason for leaving. However, the situation is evolving – for the better.

For more than a decade, Qatar has become a confluence for science and innovation in the MENA region. It is home to Qatar Foundation’s (QF) edutainment show Stars of Science, and it hosts Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP). 

Qatar’s Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis developed a unique smart educational prayer rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray, and more.

The show falls under QSTP’s umbrella of programmes that support incubation and start-ups, enhancing capacity to further develop the Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) ecosystem. The area is fast becoming recognised as the epicentre for technological, engineering, and scientific innovation.

This ecosystem supports and nurtures home-grown innovations from some of the region’s brightest young Arab minds with a view to stemming the tide of MENA innovators seeking resources, support, and mentorship elsewhere. It provides inventors with a nurturing environment where they can refine their inventions, gain guidance, confidence, and mentorship, with the aim to retain promising talent. And with numerous alumni creating innovations that are being used globally, the program also helps to showcase Arab talent to the wider world. 

While Stars of Science helps shape the region’s future through revealing the potential of innovators, QSTP promotes one of QF’s key objectives; empowering the innovator behind the idea. 

Contestants are automatically enrolled into the flagship accelerator programme, XLR8, where they can continue working on their projects with QF’s support. This unique innovation hub assists inventive entrepreneurs with successful startups, helping them bring their creations to the market within the region, but also internationally.

One such innovator is Dr. Nour Majbour, former researcher at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), who took her fascination with the human brain and created a laboratory kit designed to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages through antibodies. After the show, Dr. Majbour went on to further develop her Stars of Science project, named QABY, within Qatar’s supportive technological ecosystem and officially registered it as a trademark with QF.

Another alumnus from the show is veterinarian Dr. Mohammed Doumir from Algeria – his  ingenious project addresses the issue of limping in racing camels. Post Stars of Science, Qatar’s unique collaborative ecosystem appealed to Dr. Doumir, and he stayed in the country pushing for technological advancement and promoting innovation. With the support of the QSTP Product Development Fund – which incubated and funded his idea – he opened his own company named Vetosis, and is now the director for veterinary research and innovation at QSTP. He is currently adding new applications to his device for camel training and fitness promotion. 

In Stars of Science Season 11, Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis, from Qatar, took inspiration from his Islamic faith to develop Sajdah, the unique Smart Educational Prayer Rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray — and more. 

After Stars of Science, he started his own company, Thakaa Technologies currently incubated at QSTP where he received funding through the QSTP Product Development Fund. He also successfully completed a pre-order crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood, a platform co-founded by another Stars of Science alumnus, Omar Hamid.

These projects serve as prime examples of incredible collaborations with Qatar’s technological ecosystem, and are a testament to successfully promoting Arab innovators. They highlight Qatar’s unique atmosphere of innovation and support, to the benefit of the Arab region – and beyond – transforming ideas into inventions that positively impact local and international communities. 

Shaping the future of Human Resources

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Zawya’s TECHNOLOGY gives Shaping the future of Human Resources by Dr Ahmad Khamis, all the importance that is due to it in the GCC region.

The above image is for illustration and is of Entrepreneur.

The presence of rich data resources has enabled businesses to segment and personalise their products and services, which has provided an opportunity for these companies to rapidly expand into new spaces of innovation. All these adjustments have had a profound impact on the structure and functioning of the workplace. As a result, this has created a need for organisations to rethink how they hire, engage, develop, reward, and lead their workforce  

OPINION

Technology is changing the way we live and work, stirring businesses into adapting effortlessly. Every business, regardless of industry, now has the need and potential to evolve digitally and consequently, globally.

The presence of rich data resources has enabled businesses to segment and personalise their products and services, which has provided an opportunity for these companies to rapidly expand into new spaces of innovation. All these adjustments have had a profound impact on the structure and functioning of the workplace. As a result, this has created a need for organisations to rethink how they hire, engage, develop, reward, and lead their workforce.

From “for whom” to “with whom”

High performing organisations have begun to operate as empowered networks, coordinated through culture, information systems and talent mobility. This requires companies to redesign the organisation itself with new operational models to be implemented at different levels. The fast-paced business activities demand that firms are not encumbered by legacy practices, traditional systems, and behaviors that consume resources such as time and money but do not deliver the desired results in return. This has led to the popular question; “for whom do you work?” to be replaced by “with whom do you work?”

HR Management was primarily designed as a compliance function in an organisation, with a focus on managing talent, processes, and transactions. However, constantly changing business and organisational structures require a flexible, data-driven, and highly skilled human resource system that can attract, retain, and develop talents. HR is transforming into an innovative consultancy with a broader scope and responsibility to design, formulate strategies, and enhance the entire employee and employer experience.

Transforming a business environment requires a new HR system that is more tactical and strategic as opposed to administrative. A strategic HR team has the potential to build a team of employees most suited to the company’s requirements. Moreover, digitising functions will enable senior management to focus on functions such as increasing the market share of their business, growing their customer base, driving product innovation, increasing sales, and helping the company be more responsive to the market, among other operations.

Shifting to a company-wide interrelated function

An organisation’s HR has evolved from a silo away from core business plans and activities to a department that cofunctions with management, to further understand business needs, and most importantly, to enable and empower their key resource: employees. With the rise of disruptive technologies such as block chain, AI, machine learning VR/AR, and people analytics, the suitability of HR practices has greatly expanded. Every HR department owns a variety of data, including payroll, social media, employee engagement surveys, leadership assessments and developments, performance reviews, recruiting, and exit interviews, which if conducted correctly, can guarantee key insights for future business decisions.

The two shifts taking place that play a significant role in shaping this industry’s future are the options on how companies support traditional HR practices, and talent retention in an environment where employees are capable and eager to transfer to new workplaces. The GCC region has a stable regulatory framework, excellent infrastructure, and a diverse range of talents and capabilities among its residents and expats. Furthermore, the region’s present interest in harnessing technology and innovation is projected to assist GCC enterprises’ human resources departments. It is estimated by the World Economic Forum that 41% of all work activities in Kuwait are susceptible to automation, 46% in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, 47% in the UAE, and 52%in Qatar. As compared to 2015, 21% of core skills required across all occupations was different in 2020 in the GCC.

Professionals that can combine extensive industry expertise with cutting-edge analytical tools to quickly modify corporate strategies will be in high demand. Crowdfunding sites, remote and virtual work, and other online platforms are gaining popularity. This necessitates HR departments in GCC organisations managing a distributed and virtual workforce, integrating freelancers, and mitigating the constraints of online work. Furthermore, it necessitates businesses to foster a culture of continuous learning and knowledge of the changing infrastructure among their staff.

Organisations can utilise people analytics and predictive talent modelling to identify pain points and prioritise future analytics investments. Data analytics can also help businesses correctly identify employees who are on the verge of leaving and persuade them to stay with more informed efforts. This not only increases customer satisfaction but also lowers costs.

Rebranding human resources

Several significant innovations are having an impact on today’s HR functions. Companies choose solutions that allow for ongoing performance monitoring, obviating the need for formal quarterly or half-yearly staff reviews. The process will become increasingly automated and streamlined as firms adopt a single data model to enable real-time KPIs to measure and analyse performance. Firms demand real-time management, and HR must respond by leveraging analytics and data in creative ways to improve staff management.

The majority of today’s workforce are incredibly tech-savvy and want a consistent and distinctive experience on a daily basis. The workforce will increasingly include millennials who expect cutting-edge technology to support them in their employment, necessitating the organisation’s ongoing invention of new ways to engage the workforce.

As the power of technology grows, technology needs to become a trusted partner at work, augmenting an individual’s role in smart ways so that the employees can focus on those aspects of the job that require human touch and skills. Artificial intelligence enables large-scale efficiencies and serves as a foundation for many of the new technologies that businesses are adopting.

In many firms, HR functions have been rebranded, with phrases such as “employee experience”, “people management”, and “human capital” to signal a shift in the brand. Organisations are still grappling with how digitisation will fundamentally alter human work and in what ways humans and the emerging machine co-workers will work together. This is likely to create new value for customers and the firm. It is high time to reimagine work across the enterprise and HR with digitisation and automation.

Dr Ahmad Khamis is the co-founder & CEO at BLOOVO, a technology company founded in 2014 specializing in the provision of AI-powered recruitment solutions. Ahmad is a seasoned private equity and venture capital professional boasting over 17 years of multi-national experience. His career has seen him in senior roles at several blue-chip companies in the MENA region and premier consultancies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from University College London (UCL), Diploma in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics (LSE), Masters in Finance from the University of Leicester and a Doctorate in Financial Economics from Manchester.