It is no secret that there was little development anywhere in the Arabian peninsula prior to the discovery of oil. The reason is simple: there was no money for it. The economy in those days was a simple one, based upon pearl diving, fishing, coastal trade and the most rudimentary agriculture.
In 1962 when oil production began in Abu Dhabi the country lacked virtually everything: schools, hospitals, airports, seaports, a dependable supply of safe drinking water, electricity plants and, most importantly, proper housing for the majority of the people. Indeed in the whole country there was not a single kilometre of tarmac road. There had been peace, but a peace without prosperity.
In 1962 there were only 20 schools in the country with less than 4000 students -- and most of those boys. By the time the UAE was established in 1971, there were still less than 28,000 students and education was pretty well confined to the towns. Today there are over 290,000 children at government schools all over the country. Each village has its primary school for young children and in the towns, secondary schools with boarding facilities mean that students of $$$$ sexes can complete their secondary education.
In the past, post-secondary education was government-financed and of course meant going abroad to other Arab countries or even to Britain or America. At present, however, the UAE can offer higher education at home. In 1977 the Emirates University was set up in Al Ain. Since that time there have been some 14,500 graduates with half of them women. Hundreds of new graduates are turned out each year.
Courses offered include the traditional university subjects as well as various kinds of engineering, agriculture, various scientific disciplines and a highly-rated Faculty of Medicine which is recognized by Britain's prestigious Royal College of Surgeons. Overseas scholarships are still available for higher degrees and are still financed by the government.
Early on, the government realized the importance of technical and vocational training for its citizens -- $$$$ male and female -- so that they could help in meeting the demands of the local job market.
To help meet these demands, in 1988 a system of Higher Colleges of Technology was set up. These offer a more technically oriented course of study. As in the university and the government schools, tuition at the Colleges is free and curriculum has been produced in consultation with potential employers such as banks, airlines and the local oil industry. In 1992 when the first group of students graduated, they had little or no difficulty in finding jobs.
A new Certificate and Diploma programme is being introduced in 1995-96 which will offer a year-long course of basic studies for those who lack adequate preparation to enter the four year Higher Colleges course.
Additional technical education and training is also available in institutions such as the Dubai Aviation College, the Emirates Banking Training Institute or the Career Development Centre of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
Outside the government sector, there exists a wide range of private schools with an enrolment of some 150,000 students. A number of these teach in the language of one of the expatriate communities living in the UAE and follow the curriculum of their countries. For example, there are English, French, German and Urdu schools preparing children for life in their home countries.
In the last few years, a number of universities and colleges from overseas have begun to offer partial or full degree courses through affiliates in the UAE. This means that a full range of education is available for $$$$ citizens and expatriates.
The President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, has said: "Youth is the real wealth of the nation" and if the income from oil can be used to create an academically and technically qualified citizenry, there can be no doubt of the wisdom of the immense expenditure.