By Mark Chaban, Area Education Director, Microsoft Middle East & Africa
Economies across the Middle East & Africa are busy fulfilling ambitious economic visions that require an abundance of national talent to be on hand in the years to come. As a result, education has become a tier-one priority for governments in the region. As with many other areas of their economy, leaders are turning to digital transformation as a means of enhancing the classroom and the learning experiences it provides, but Microsoft believes it is of vital importance that change not occur merely for its own sake.
Digital transformation, when implemented thoughtfully, can give birth to business models that recharge an organisation’s productivity, sometimes leading to disruptive innovation within an industry. For commercial enterprises, this means improved customer engagement, empowered employees, optimised operations and transformed products. This is nothing short of a new era of economic activity. As our societies were once grounded in agriculture, and then heavy industry and mass manufacture, today we are steeped in a world of connectivity and data. Advanced machine-learning and analytics mean our combined technology infrastructure intrinsically “knows” more than the sum of humanity itself.
Artificial intelligence is not the only player in this fresh paradigm. Cloud services, the Internet of Things, mobile technologies and social platforms are all contributing to a tectonic shift in how we live our lives. The road to digital transformation however, can be littered with speed bumps, and other obstacles that can slow progress. One such obstacle that has impacted the transformation efforts of many companies is a skills gap, pointing towards the need to revamp the education system; and technology plays a vital role in doing that.
Transforming the classroom
Microsoft has spent many years helping to empower students, educators and school leaders around the world to transform learning experiences, and remains BETT’s worldwide technology partner. Just as in other industries, technology is a powerful tool for change and the four pillars of digital transformation (improved customer engagement, empowered employees, optimised operations and transformed products) also apply to education.
But as with other sectors, technology alone does not magically transform operations and service provision within schools and universities. Education leaders need to take a step back and examine their long-term aspirations and curricula. Only then can they select the right technologies to place in their classrooms, to help facilitate those outcomes.
The process begins with considering the way in which people learn. Technology can have a massive impact on collaboration in the classroom, allowing students and educators to share ideas, connect with one another and build a powerful repository of content that they, themselves, generate to complement that of outside publishers. Learning collaboratively has long-lasting benefits, instilling habits of team-building and interaction that students can carry into the workplace.
The benefits of change
Such work ethics, when shared among young talent, can form the foundation of economic accelerations, such as those pursued across the Middle East and Africa. It is the formation of these soft skills that schools and universities must focus on, realising that computers, whiteboards and electronic books, are just the tools that help.
Once technology is acquired within the context of an end result, its impact is much more keenly felt. School leaders will also be able to demonstrate that impact to parents and other stakeholders. They will be able to avoid costly change in the future by planning around educational needs at the outset, rather than installing technology solutions that are not aligned with the welfare of students and teachers.