Abu Dhabi: Oil and Education

Abu Dhabi

Capital City

United Arab Emirates

April 9, 2016

I heard somewhere that the Sheikh in Abu Dhabi declared, “When the oil runs out, we will have the best educated population in the Arab world.”   I couldn't find the source of that quote.  I did find a reference to a speech the Sheikh delivered in 2015:

HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said the UAE and other countries in the region had “lagged behind” in the past when it comes to investment in education.

Speaking on the first day of the Dubai Government Summit, Sheikh Mohamed told an audience of world leaders and decision makers: “I think in the region we have all paid a high price in the delay of education.

“We were lagging behind. When we know that we were lagging behind – and we know we are still behind – it’s different than if we are oblivious of our status.

“At this time, when we have a lot wealth, we need to invest in education.”

The Sheikh and the decision makers seem to be doing quite well in this regard.  The literacy rate in Abu Dhabi is 94%.  Considering that the Emirate of Abu Dhabi covers a huge expanse of desert with other cities and many small communities, this high literacy rate would appear to be a great accomplishment.  

With a National Population of 508,000, Abu Dhabi boasts 254 government schools, 184 private schools and eight universities.

Apparently the Sheikh decided to attract educational excellence from beyond its borders.  The Paris-Sorbonne University has a campus here.  And as a native New Yorker, I was pleased to visit the New York University Abu Dhabi campus.

The pleasant, immaculate walkways of NYUAD are lined with palm trees, fountains and modern sculpture.  The low-rise graffiti-free buildings are bright white and modern.  I couldn’t resist the Book Store where I purchased a short autobiography called From Rags to Riches -The Story of Abu Dhabi by Mohammed A.J. Al Fahim.

Inside the main NYUAD administration building I was greeted by a small committee who invited me to attend the Go-Green Week conference and buffet lunch.  I met professors, students and administration officers who all seemed to be delighted to be teaching and studying at NYUAD. 

“Delighted” is also how I would describe my visit to Abu Dhabi.  My hotel was on a main thoroughfare a short walk to the World Trade Center, other important skyscrapers, and also close to the Corniche.

The avenues are broad and traffic flows freely.  Modern office towers and small traditional mosques share the same downtown location and there’s no feeling of congestion.  Spacious and airy come to mind.

In Ittihad Square (Union Square) I found enormous sculptures of the four traditional objects of Arab hospitality:  Coffee Pot, Incense Burner, Rose Water Sprinkler and Food Cover.

I was particularly impressed with the dark "wooden" architecture and transportation systems of the interior of the Mall at the World Trade Center. 

And is there a better way to spend an afternoon than to take a leisurely stroll along the Corniche that forms a sweeping curve beside the waterways?

The local folks pedal a bike, relax in the sand or smoke a pipe and take advantage of a weekend holiday.

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