The Gulf education sector has witnessed a seismic transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic as schools quickly introduced technology to accommodate restrictions on classroom teaching. About one million student schedules have been disrupted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) alone, according to government data.
The Middle East has since emerged as a fast-growing market for education technology (edtech) companies, with global players citing a 500% increase in the region’s subscribers in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a report from RedSeer Consulting.
“The demands of a highly skilled workforce in the country, a pro-education government and the ease of doing business are enabling the favorable growth of the edtech sector.rtunities in the United Arab Emirates, ”the study says.
According to Senthil Nathan, managing director and co-founder of education consultancy Edu Alliance and former deputy vice-chancellor of Abu Dhabi Colleges of Technology, before the pandemic, online education had been “looked down upon or, at best, treated as extra help “.
“Today, the same regulatory agencies not only allow digitized education, but in fact making it possible, encouraging and facilitating it both at the start of schooling and in higher education, ”Nathan said.
“Although it was imposed on ministries – due to public health considerations – this experience helped them at fully appreciate the potential benefits of edtech, as well as the possible pitfalls, through their own experiences, rather than by reading casesudies from other countries. “
According to a recent IDC survey, the pandemic has prompted 72% of educational institutions in the Gulf to advance their digital initiative roadmap by at least a year.
“As the situation stabilizes in the new normal, most of the educational institutions in the gulf intend to operate more like a digital business, ”said Jebin george, program manager, industrial solutions and smart cities (META) at IDC.
In the new scenario, ICT will play the role of “cognitive companion” in a blended learning environment, he added. “Institutions will use digital tools to engage students, manage homework and tests, and build digital models of ancillary activities., such as virtual campus tours and virtual campus recruitments. “
According to the IDC expert, educational institutions in the Gulf are deploying large-scale digital initiatives that cover: rapid assimilation and adoption of digital educational technologies; improved governance and trust of digital data; and increased automation and process reengineering for digital campuses.
“When it comes to the use of emerging technologies in education, artificial intelligence shows great potential,” said George. “While the early use cases focus on automating tasks such as attendance tracking and test scoring, some of the Gulf’s forward-looking institutions are already experimenting with more advanced use cases, such as as personalized and adaptive learning. ”
While the long-term impact of Covid-19 on regional education has yet to be fully manifested, learning models are expected to become more technology-centric and incorporate a range of blending techniques.
According to Simon Hay, founder of Firefly, headquartered in the UK – a company that creates technology for continuity of learning and parent engagement in the Gulf and around the world – the concept of blended learning (blended online and in-person training) has been accelerated rapidly by the pandemic .
In partnership with more than 600 schools, Firefly is used by more than one million students, teachers and parents, including in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia. The company has seen its normal peak usage increase 12 times as schools put learning online during the pandemic.
“Blended learning has definitely become more prevalent in schools, with students only in school for part of the week in many cases, as schools look for ways to maintain social distancing and reduce the number of children. ‘students at school,’ said Hay.
“Firefly provides a platform that allows schools to extend learning beyond the classroom, with online access to the same learning resources, easy homework management, feedback and tracking,” and, most importantly, the ability to engage parents in the learning conversation. ”
The arrival of a regional immunization program will accelerate the transition to more ‘in-school’ education, said Hay, but the adoption of new technologies means that “schools are now in a better position to manage disruption and maintain the learning process in a situation “.
Simon Wensley, director of export sales and product development at blended learning solutions company HME, which provides futuristic artificial intelligence labs to universities in the United Arab Emirates, Gulf demonstrated “strong adoption »Edtech systems, compared to other parts of the world.
“The region has shown a faster adaptation to edtech learning, with students having better access to computer hardware and communication systems. they are able to do their learning in a stimulating environment, ”said Wensley.
“I believe that the process of delivering electronic technologies will become endemic in schools, allowing students to thrive in a supportive learning environment that suits them. This has been practiced in our higher education institutions for many years, but now teachers will also be working with a more flexible approach to interacting with students using a traditional and online teaching matrix.
Baptism by fire
According to Nathan of the Edu Alliance, teachers across the region have seen first-hand the tangible benefits that digital technology can bring to the classroom during the Covid crisis.
“For many faculty members, this has been a baptism of fire,” he said. “The majority of early learning faculty, as well as higher education in this region, have resisted even blended learning. But they had to make this change in a matter of weeks.
“Increasingly, teachers in public schools and colleges are also subject to more stringent monitoring of the effectiveness of their online education. They had to make choices to sink or swim. And almost all of them have learned to swim in this new online educational environment..
“As I’ve known for over a decade, native students in the region have always been more than ready for a fully online education. Our challenges have always been the first with the development of the faculty.Today there has been a fundamental transformation of both groups in this region.