United Arab Emirates
Significant achievements in the nonformal education sector of the UAE are apparent. Literacy in the UAE has improved dramatically since the formation of the state. As recently as 1975 the literacy rate among males was 54.2 percent and among females 30.9 percent. By 1998, the adult literacy rate (age 15 and above) was 77.1 percent for females and 73.4 percent for males.
The decline in illiteracy has been facilitated by the widespread availability of literacy classes at adult education centers spread throughout the UAE. In 1999, some 108 adult education centers were in operation, offering educational opportunities for 16,553 mature students. From 2000 to 2001, the number of adult centers increased from 108 to 113, comprising 39 centers for men and 74 for women. The number of mature students in these centers is anticipated to increase from 16,553 to an estimated 24,404, with female students comprising 13,917 of the total and male students numbering 10,487.
Nonformal education efforts focusing on UAE women are worthy of particular attention. The Women's Federation of the UAE has played an important role in providing nonformal educational opportunities for women.
As indicated by the statistics cited, women in the UAE have commonly embraced the formal educational opportunities made available to them since the foundation of the state. Female students are now in the majority at all levels of higher education in the country. Women are also achieving impressive records in their studies, outperforming their male counterparts in many activities. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the wife of the UAE President, Sheik Zayed, has noted that women have "no choice but to excel in education to compensate for the long years that they have endured without the light of knowledge."
The continuing strong endorsement from the nation's leadership for the pursuit of education has given UAE women more opportunity to participate in the affairs of their country. Support from national leaders led to the development of Zayed University for women in 1998. Although their numbers currently remain small, UAE women today are making their presence felt in society as civil servants, university professors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, business women, administrators, and as members of the police force and the army. The policy that women are entitled to play a major role in UAE society is grounded in the UAE Constitution, which guarantees the principles of social justice for all "in accordance with the precepts of Islam." Under the Constitution, women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, and the right to practice professions as men. The guarantees specified in the Constitution have been promoted by implementing legislation.
A legislative framework by itself would not, however, have been sufficient to achieve the expanding level of emancipation experienced by UAE women today. Non-formal educational programs have played a significant role in improving the condition of UAE women. Understanding that organization was required at the grassroots level, Sheikha Fatima founded the first women's society in the country in 1973, the Abu Dhabi Women's Society. The success of the Abu Dhabi organization led to the creation of the Dubai Women's Development Society, the Sharjah Women's Development Society, the Women's Development Society in Ajman, the Umm al-Qaiwain Development Society, and the Ras al-Khaimah Women's Development Society. These societies were subsequently linked together under the UAE Women's Federation, which was established in 1975. To date, the federation has played an important role in assisting the women of the UAE to increasingly realize their potential.
The UAE Women's Federation (now housed in elegant new premises in Abu Dhabi) is a quasi-governmental autonomous body with its own budget. It has a number of committees to run its activities, such as religious affairs, mother and child care, social affairs, cultural affairs, sports, heritage, and arts. Depending on the geographical size of the emirate, the individual societies in the federation may have more than one branch and there are now a total of 31 branches of the six societies, many operating in remote areas of the country. Activities undertaken by the individual branches, often in association with the Ministry of Health and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), include illiteracy eradication and health education programs, nursery classes, housekeeping, dressmaking and handicraft classes, art classes, child care information, vocational training projects, job placement programs, religious education, welfare assistance, and family counseling, along with a calendar of social, cultural, and sporting activities.
The priorities of the Women's Federation in the early days were to help women emerge from seclusion, use their leisure time to become literate, and acquire knowledge about the modern world to enable them to raise their families' standards of living. Having made gains in these areas, today's goals are linked to comprehensive social planning, with a view to increasing cohesiveness and national identity in the country.
Despite advances in the emancipation of women in the UAE, much more needs to be done. For example, there is increasing focus on employment opportunities for well-educated women. In 1980 females constituted 3.4 percent of the labor force. By 1995 this figure had only increased to 14 percent, despite the fact that a growing majority of college and university graduates are women.
After examining models used elsewhere, the Centre for Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT) has recently launched a countrywide continuing education program for all nationalities. The program has been designed for professional development and personal enrichment for people with an eye for continuing education. Initial project plans include 100 face-to-face instructor-led courses and approximately 100 online courses through a web site (http://www.cert.ac.ae). Courses will be offered through the center and Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai, and Ras al-Khaimah. The center is the continuing education and research arm of the HCT, and this will be the first time the HCT will offer special courses to both nationals and expatriates.
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