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The following article was featured in our recent special edition on “Higher Education in the UAE”.



Dubai, one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates, has positioned itself as an elite tourism destination, and has also amassed enough educational accolades over the years.

For the first time ever this year, Dubai’s universities were evaluated and published by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority. In the first phase, 17 out of 25 institutions were evaluated; covering 282 programs studied by 16,517 students (51.5% of students enrolled in international branch campuses in Dubai). According to the ratings, three institutions achieved 5-star rating, eight institutions achieved 4-star rating, three institutions received 3-star rating, two achieved 2-star rating and one received a star-rating.

As Dubai continues to innovate and reinvent itself, these trends have been observed in the education sector too. Namely, formative schooling, in the form of Coded Minds, a global iSTEAM & Leadership education platform, that provides alternative learning and ventures into educational possibilities that have so far seen limited support.

Omar Farooqui, the founder and Chief Innovation Officer: who is one of the city’s most formidable figures in the education sector, offers his perspective on transforming the education environment for all children, including those who don’t fit conventional expectations.

A quick search online and the messages from this founder are both inspiring and informative about the subject of alternative education.

“Alternative education is more appropriately places for special needs and gifted children today. I think that a lot more can be done and a lot more should be done by us, and by institutions around the world, and they should play a significant role in terms of funding to provide a stronger basis for these wonderful children to be able to have a more immersive learning experience.

“And one that lends itself to be able to cater to their strengths. I feel that a lot more can be done. If we see a little aspect of a child that is not able to grasp the theory of any subject matter in a regular classroom environment, we always feel that that child is lacking or is not up to par with standards. Whereas, if they are put in an alternative way of learning, I’m certain that that child will accelerate. Every child is unique and every child is so special, so I think we should be able to cater to that,” Farooqui says.

Coded Minds is of the view that many schools still appeared reluctant to accept coding, which is commonplace in most industries and has been said to be the language of the future.

“Both coding and robotics are still taken as vocational rather than mainstream subjects. This needs to change dramatically and quickly. They should become part of the national curriculum,” Farooqui says.

“Even the premium schools in the UAE – despite the fees they are charging – do not meet the international standards these subjects should be taught at.”

Coded Minds integrates project-based and technology-driven learning into any school curriculum. Regardless of the academic board, or the courses being taught in a school, they make the teaching method more interactive and hands-on. Students are able to learn through experiments and technology, instead of memorizing.

The curriculum, which considers global trends, takes students to various corners of the world for real-life experiences. Whether in a faraway forest village in Mozambique, among Aboriginal tribes in Australia or at an orphanage in Nepal, the Global Camp gives students a reality check and prepares them to be the world leaders of tomorrow.

It is this unrivalled pursuit of excellence and innovation that many consider when choosing an ideal school. Farooqui tells us more from Dubai in this interview with FORBES AFRICA:

What gives Coded Minds a competitive edge?

The education sector is globally competitive. There are traditional schools and some, indeed, are outstanding in their traditions of academic excellence; not to mention campuses and some of the newer alternate platforms that are sprouting up everywhere for online learning. No doubt that it is very competitive out there.

However, not many, if any, are doing what Coded Minds is doing. Technology is only a quarter of our offering whether it is learning about it, or even using it. Coded Minds is reinventing education altogether and making it purely and truly 100% project-based and to ensure true delivery of this approach, Coded Minds is also training teachers through our professional development program which is a way of upskilling them to the standards of 21st century pedagogy.

What is on offer for African students at your institution in Dubai?

Coded Minds has been set up globally, as we expand into various geographies around world.  We cater to the local cultures and traditions and, by that, I mean that the overall curriculum and projects that we develop all have a 20% local flavor/aspect infused into them.

This is done by an on-the-ground based curriculum developer who works with the overall global team playing a very crucial role.

African students will be able to experience this through the localized projects that we bring to the core.  It is also up to the empowered teachers, post the professional development program, who assist us to localize the curriculum, and are our eyes and ears as they innovate on their feet. We give them that flexibility in the lessons that are taught.

Many African countries grapple with stagnant national economies, limited job openings for graduates and poor prospects for self-employment. Which Coded Minds programs/projects are offered that can remedy this challenge?

The fact that we hire and train teachers locally to upskill them means in itself that we are creating jobs. Secondly, once they are upskilled, they have the necessary modern day skills to seek other jobs and, better yet, still be entrepreneurs in their own respective rights.

Thirdly, Coded Minds endeavors to play its role in society by offering global opportunities to teachers across our platform as we grow bigger and expand in various geographies to work in other countries as well.

Finally, as we develop our capabilities, as well as our partner network with colleges, universities and corporates, we envision being a supply line to these institutions for candidates who may need it. So basically, an ecosystem is being created by Coded Minds as we speak.

Increasing access to sustainable economic opportunities improves human development. How can African students gain these skills from Coded Minds?

The ecosystem being created by Coded Minds is in itself a sustainable environment of constant opportunities; be it students or be it teachers. Africa, for Coded Minds, will be no different when it comes to those who go through the platform.

Core and peripheral/ancillary skills are equally important and can be acquired through our leadership, or emotional intelligence, or innovation, or entrepreneurship programs. We teach everyone skills that are needed for the 21st century, skills that robots cannot attain.

What innovative approach has Coded Minds taken to the much-lauded Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects?

Coded Minds has gone a bold step forward and increased the breadth of STEM and called it iSTEAM (Innovation, Science, Technology, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Mathematics), and have added Leadership as our core offering; and to add to that, we are a 100% project based company. We are constantly adding to our projects and are constantly looking at the latest global trends, as well as problems faced in various countries and are finding practical solutions to those problems.  In addition, we develop projects that will aid the economy by teaching those skills to the children in Africa to help solve the issues in their respective countries at the core of any matter.

Many institutions are still prioritizing rote learning, theory over practice, and outdated curricula that do not respond to the changing needs of the job market, and few to no schools teach entrepreneurship to young people. Are students being prepared for a climate that is specific to Africa?

Majority of the schools out there around the world are still conforming to rote learning and that is simply because the end goal seems to be to studying for tests and exams filled with theories of hundreds of years gone by. As a result, they are under preparing children for modern challenges, be it Africa or any other part of the world.

Coded Minds is a 100% project-based methodology of real world projects that children get their hands on and build from scratch. It encourages children to think critically, logically, be creative, inventive and debate.

Therefore, Coded Minds gets children inquisitive, instead of traditional rote learning where free thinking is not prioritized because every child needs to study for an exam, in which short-term memory of regurgitating theory will be examined, completely detached to the real world that awaits them. At Coded Minds, the ecosystem reflects that real world.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current social discourse. How do Coded Minds approach this subject?

The 4IR is very much at the center of our daily thoughts when it comes to developing our curriculum/subjects/projects/professional development programs.

We have our finger on the pulse at all times, which is why our constantly evolving  projects are key to the skills being attained by students preparing them for the 21st century.

Add to that, the current crop of teachers who require an update to their own respective skills are also benefiting from our professional development programs that will help them remain relevant when it comes to the jobs post the 4IR.

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Highest-Paid Country Acts 2019: Lil Nas X Debuts; Luke Bryan Tops List




The Country Music Awards are billed as Nashville’s biggest night, but this year’s event buried the genre’s most significant breakthrough of the past 12 months, offering up just one nomination for 20-year-old musician Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” spent a record 19 weeks atop the singles charts.

That run helped Lil Nas X notch a different honor, debuting on the Forbes list of top-earning country acts this year with an estimated pretax income of $14 million. The Atlanta native claims the No. 18 spot thanks to the fiendishly catchy country-rap track he released through indie music service Amuse in December 2018. The song clocked 1.8 billion spins by summer despite being booted from the Billboard country charts. The snub—and a bevy of remixes—helped “Old Town Road” broaden the genre’s audience more than any track in recent memory. 

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself,” says Amuse cofounder Diego Farias. “Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Lil Nas X isn’t the only high earner to come up short at the awards ceremony: Luke Bryan claims the top spot on our list for the second consecutive year with $42.5 million but didn’t receive a single nomination. That’s mostly because the Georgia native, who favors baseball caps over cowboy hats, hasn’t put out a new studio album since 2017. Instead, he spent his time grossing more than $1 million per tour stop and serving as a judge on American Idol.

The genre-bending Zac Brown Band ranks second, pulling in $38.5 million on the strength of 50 live performances and a new album, The Owl, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts. Other crossover acts on the list include Canadian songstress Shania Twain (No. 7 with $29 million) and hip-hop-tinged duo Florida Georgia Line (No. 8 with $26 million).

“Country’s more of a lifestyle,” the group’s cofounder Brian Kelley told Forbes in 2015. “The music’s always going to evolve.”

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself. Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Plenty of the CMAs’ stars did make our list, including performers Eric Church (No. 6, $30 million) and Miranda Lambert (No. 20, $13 million), as well as two of the hosts—Dolly Parton (No. 15, $17 million) and Carrie Underwood (No. 14, $16 million). A third host, Reba McEntire, narrowly missed the cut.

Overall, the top ten acts in country earned $311.5 million, up 2% from last year’s $304.5 million. Our list of the genre’s top earners measures estimated pretax earnings from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Figures are generated with the help of numbers from Nielsen Music, PollstarPro and interviews with industry insiders.

Although our rankings typically reflect country’s woeful lack of diversity at the top, this year’s list offers at least a glimmer of hope that things are changing. There are 6 women in the top 20—the least lopsided ratio in the seven years Forbes has published the list—and Lil Nas X is both the first openly gay act and the first person of color to make it.

Though he declined to comment for this story through a representative, Lil Nas X is clearly taking his role as a trailblazer seriously, regardless of how much CMA hardware he takes home. As he told the BBC earlier this year: “I feel like [I’m] opening doors for more people.”

20. Miranda Lambert, $13 million (tie)

20. Lady Antebellum, $13 million (tie)

19. Rascal Flatts, $13.5 million

18. Lil Nas X, $14 million

17. Faith Hill, $15 million

16. Carrie Underwood, $16 million

15. Dolly Parton, $17 million

14. George Strait, $17.5 million

13. Tim McGraw, $18 million

12. Dierks Bentley, $20 million

11. Toby Keith, $21 million

10. Jason Aldean, $23.5 million

9. Garth Brooks, $24 million

8. Florida Georgia Line, $26 million

7. Shania Twain, $29 million

6. Eric Church, $30 million

5. Kenny Chesney, $31 million

4. Blake Shelton, $32 million

3. Keith Urban, $35 million

2. Zac Brown Band, $38.5 million

1. Luke Bryan, $42.5 million

– Zack O’Malley Greenburg

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