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School curriculums in desperate need of modernisation, claims eight-year-old

Fourth grader argues younger pupils should be allowed to study robotics, social media and artificial intelligence

Adam El Rafey, with his mum, Soha. Reem Mohammed

An eight-year-old pupil from Dubai has challenged schools to radically reassess curriculums to allow room for more relevant, modern subjects.

Adam El Rafey claimed the current academic focus was too rigid and held children back by limiting their creativity.

Speaking at an education conference in the emirate, he called for classes in robotics, social media and artificial intelligence.

He said learning about how to make a YouTube video or to spot bullying behaviour was just as useful to pupils today as more traditional subjects.

“My mum learned in the same way that I’m being taught and we need to change that,” said Adam.

“Artificial and personalised learning can help. I want to learn about advanced physics and chemistry but I can’t because I am in year four and they don’t teach that.”

“We are not allowed to be creative as we want to be.”

Adam made his remarks at the annual Global Education Supplies and Solution conference in Dubai.

The event aims to bring together experts from around the world, allowing key decision makers to discuss new ideas in the sector.

Organisers said the pupil at Jumeirah English Speaking School in Dubai was the youngest speaker to address the conference.

The star pupil also won three gold medals at the 2018 Olympiad in UAE, an annual, international exam which covers English, maths and science.

“Sometimes school cuts us off,” Adam said. “For example, if I am in the middle of a piece of writing and then the teacher comes and tells us it’s time for the next subject.

“I need more time but I have to leave it and that interrupts my creative thinking process.”

Adam’s mother, Soha El Halfawi, told how the youngster had started reading at the age of one, without having been taught.

He has since continued his obsession with learning, even completing 12 robotics courses at organisations accredited by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai’s private school regulatory body.

Speaking to The National, Adam urged schools to allow children to experiment, to tackle different academic projects and to enjoy more field trips.

He also said lessons in social media were crucial to modern schooling, and that banning children from online platforms was not the answer.

“Schools should teach pupils how to manage social media,” he said. “They should face up to the issue and have a class on social media. Don’t tell me to limit screen time but tell me how to make a proper YouTube channel.

"Teach us about fake news and teach us about bullying.”

Ms Halfawi described how her son’s curiosity had proved boundless even from an early age.

“I have videos of him when he was a two-year-old identifying all the flags in the world," she said.

"Then he got interested in cars and memorised all the logos. He would look at cars while driving by and cry out names of brands like Peugeot and Ferrari."

Today, Adam’s bedside table is crowded with books on physics and astronomy, including authors Randall Munroe and Stephen Hawking.

Ms Halfawi said she was often amused to find titles hidden under his pillowcase and in his bathroom.

“Vanadium is my favourite element [in the Periodic Table], not just because of its bright red colour but it’s also the ingredient for strengthening metal," Adam said.