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Building Citizens for the Arab Knowledge Economy: Evidence from the United Arab Emirates

Calvert W. Jones
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This working paper presents the results of an intensive case study of education reform to support the development of a post-petroleum, knowledge-based economy in the United Arab Emirates.  The case study is part of a larger research project exploring the ways in which state leaders may cultivate engaged citizens who are willing and able to contribute to the development of their countries, particularly in the contemporary era of heightened globalization and intense economic competition. Building on existing theory and empirical work, the case study identifies and measures attitudes that are believed to facilitate knowledge-intensive growth within one country, such as achievement motivation, risk-taking propensity, civic duty, willingness to invest in a promising business idea, and trust and social capital. For both policymakers and researchers, the case study offers a rich portrait of one strategy that state leaders may use to help foster knowledge-intensive economic development. 

The case study uses a quasi-experimental research methodology that compares UAE students’ attitudes in a new type of school (“treatment” schools) with UAE students’ attitudes at regular government schools (“control” schools). The new type of school has been developed as part of the country’s larger movement of education reform to support a post-petroleum, knowledge-based economy. The working paper presents findings on the major differences between students’ attitudes at the two types of schools and uses a difference-in-differences (DD) approach to estimate the causal effect of the treatment schools on students’ attitudes in these areas. 

Key findings include:

  • Students in the treatment schools reported significantly higher levels of achievement motivation, willingness to take risks, willingness to invest in a promising business idea, and social capital, compared with students in regular government schools.
  • Students in the treatment schools reported significantly higher levels of civic-mindedness relative to students in regular government schools.
  • Positive, significant DD estimates of the causal effect of treatment schools on students’ levels of nationalism and pride in the UAE were also found, suggesting that treatment schools are successfully promoting these types of attitudes in UAE youth.
  • Respect from friends and personal interest, or “a job I like,” were students’ highest priorities in selecting a job across both types of schools; treated students consider “contributing to UAE society” almost as important.
  • The data suggest that treatment schools are increasing the degree to which UAE youth value determination and perseverance, based on positive and significant DD treatment effect estimates for these variables.

This research has benefited from the institutional and fellowship support of Yale University, especially the Macmillan Center for International and Area Studies, the Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University, and the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. 

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Author affiliation: Calvert W. Jones, Yale University 

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.18502/aqf.0106

Recommended citation: Jones, C. W. (2012). Building Citizens for the Arab Knowledge Economy Evidence from the United Arab Emirates (Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research Working Paper No. 2). doi:10.18502/aqf.0106