The Middle East’s remote learning revolution

Social distancing and lockdown measures may have disrupted education, but in the Middle East for the past month, things have been different.

Social distancing and lockdown measures may have disrupted education, but in the Middle East for the past month, things have been different.

Since March 2020, schools and universities have been boosting their remote learning efforts. 

Learners of all ages are still getting an education. Here’s how.

Remote learning in the Middle East

Institutions close their doors but keep learning going

Learning institutes around the GCC and wider Middle East have been closed since March 8th in some cases as nations self-isolate.

Teachers are no longer in classrooms. Lecturers aren’t in the lecture halls. Students and schoolchildren are at home.

Subsequently, the past few weeks have seen major investment into the sector, and new partnerships have been forged.

How regional education bodies have embraced remote learning

Education authorities across the region have been quick to make partnerships with tech companies and embrace distance learning.

Saudi Arabia leads the pack. Maeen, the Saudi Research and Innovation Network has teamed up with the Integrated Telecom Company to help improve the access to nationwide digital learning services for university and higher education students. 

According to the Saudi Press Agency, this partnerships mission is to “increase the data capacity between some of the Kingdom’s universities, and the King Abulaziz City for Science and Technology, free of charge.” 

In doing so, a more stable environment for setting up virtual classrooms will be achieved, letting more HE students engage with tutors while at home.

In Dubai, Bett MEA Knowledge Partner and education authority the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) has set up an app-laden portal to aid with distance learning.

In This Together Dubai offers numerous applications, websites and further resources to parents, teachers, and students 

“Many people in our community have been coming to us to offer or ask for help during this time,” Dr Abdulla Al-Karam, director-general of KHDA, told Arab News.

“This portal is one way of connecting those who have useful products and services with those who need them," Al-Karam said.

“In the last few days and weeks, it has become clear that for our community, the term distance learning applies to physical distance only.

“Socially and emotionally, we are more connected to each other than ever before. We’re all in this together. Distance brings us closer.”

ABQ Education Group, the largest private education entity within Oman, has provided students in its schools with Toppr subscriptions.

Toppr is an Indian e-learning platform currently servicing over 11 million students across K-12 curriculums. Currently, it will be offering its services to ABQ-enrolled primary and secondary pupils. It has also pledged to act as afterschool support once the coronavirus passes to offer education reinforcement for ABQ’s students.

Visual education solutions provider ViewSonic is also offering its remote technologies to schools for free during this difficult time. 

“As a stakeholder in the education sector, we wanted to make sure we’re doing our part in supporting schools, educators, students and parents in this very trying time, especially those without access to distance learning,” said James Chu, CEO of ViewSonic. 

“While some schools with pre-existing capabilities have already implemented distance learning during school closures, many more have been caught off guard by the Coronavirus outbreak and have had to cease all in-person classes.”

While support is there, new education challenges are presented

Teachers across the UAE and greater Middle East must confront the reality that not all school-age children will have internet access at home.

"I think the network infrastructure in the country is going to be tested but we have been given reassurances that we will be able to handle it,” said Brendon Fulton, principal of Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, when talking to The National.

"It boils down to what kind of infrastructure people have at home. I do think the UAE is well geared to deal with something like this in terms of infrastructure, but schools will have to make sure they can manage any issues. "

Schools may have to offer non-online, traditional materials to help ensure all pupils can keep studying as the crisis progresses.

Sarah Griffiths, head of primary sections at Al Yasmina Academy in Abu Dhabi, said: "We have hard copies of lessons and activities for children that they can access if parents find connectivity is a problem. Not everybody is in the position to have reliable internet access.”

Elsewhere, other educators believe they could benefit more training in online learning systems to better equip them for conducting lessons at home.

A British teacher at a public school in Sharjah told The National his attempts to use the e-learning platforms during a trial last week were not successful.

“We need a little more training. I was using Microsoft Teams, a software that is new to me but sending videos and getting documents were a challenge," they said. "We need more training or an instructional video to help us.”

So, while this may be a rare opportunity for software companies to make progress, they have to be ready to provide training as necessary for teachers unfamiliar with education technologies they have not previously used.

However, the fact remains that education authorities in across the Middle East have been quick to respond. E-learning and remote software offers multiple ways to engage with students of all age groups during this difficult time.

See or present further e-learning solutions at Bett MEA.

Bett MEA: Gateway to Middle East’s education sector

Bett MEA – the education technology event – transforms learning through offering an exhibition where experts and educators can strategize, participate in professional development and share their vision of how to improve learning outcomes across the Middle East and Africa regions.

Decision-makers come to source new technology, strategies and share intelligence on their vision of how to improve learning outcomes across K12 and Higher Education from across the Middle East and Africa.

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