Small-to-medium sized businesses (SMEs) are frequently held up as being the future hope for the GCC economies. At present, the public sector and, in particular, state-owned oil companies are the engines of growth. In the post-hydrocarbon age, which for some countries is just a few decades away, the private sector will need to become the mainstay of the economy. An expanded private sector is also necessary to provide jobs for the rapidly expanding populations in the region. 

The leaders of those SMEs will be the products of today’s schools. However, the current school system is failing its pupils.

Although literacy rates are high in the GCC, companies in the region say local students are graduating ill-prepared for the workplace. Accustomed to rote learning, most lack the skills of critical analysis needed by future business leaders.

Continuation to tertiary-level education is also well below the global average among the male population across the GCC, with the exception of Saudi Arabia. The tenacious ambition required of entrepreneurs too is lacking, with most school leavers still aspiring to be employed in a government role for life.

Huge investment is being directed towards the region’s education sector, with hundreds of new schools and universities being built. But that spending needs to be accompanied by the reform of curriculums and the retraining of staff to align teaching methods with the requirements of the respective economies.