Covid-19 set to disrupt Gulf’s $67 billion education sector


The total number of students in the GCC is projected to reach 14.5 million in 2022
The total number of students in the GCC is projected to reach 14.5 million in 2022

Dubai - The demand for public and private schools in the GCC region is likely to increase at 1.9 per cent annually from an estimated 33,456 schools in 2017 to 36,747 by 2022

By Sandhya D'Mello/ Rohma Sadaqat

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Published: Thu 17 Dec 2020, 5:40 PM

Last updated: Thu 17 Dec 2020, 11:50 PM

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital disruption across the education sector in the GCC region, creating a new normal that is very different from what many institutions are used to, experts said.

The pandemic, they said, has forced teachers to take classes online, assign tasks online, and conduct exams digitally. Many of these changes will remain, as educators look to adopting various practices that encourage learning among students.

Sahar Cooper, CEO of Aldar Education, said that the main impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on the education industry was the almost overnight switch to distance learning.

“Now, the schools are reopening, but it is clear that hybrid learning is here to stay, and we will be leveraging everything we’ve learnt from this experience to provide our students with greater flexibility and agency over their learning,” she said. “We will be investing in both the learning environment and technology in the coming years to bridge the gap between school, university, and the modern workplace – all of which are changing rapidly.”

She added that flexibility and adaptability in how players manage, operate and teach within their schools is paramount to upcoming success. “The schools of the future will look very different from the ones we have today, with a greater focus on shared and adaptable facilities surrounded by co-working/learning spaces.”

The Dh246 billion GCC education sector has continued to remain a top priority for governments despite a slowdown in economic growth. In recent years, governments in the GCC region have undertaken a number of initiatives, most notably the introduction of favourable policies, which encourage private sector participation in the education sector. The total number of students in the GCC is projected to reach 14.5 million in 2022, according to a recent report by Alpen Capital. This can be attributed to rising population base of school and college age students. The demand for public and private schools in the GCC region is likely to increase at 1.9 per cent annually from an estimated 33,456 schools in 2017 to 36,747 by 2022, reflecting an addition of more than 3,200 schools in five years. In addition, the number of students in the UAE is projected to reach 1.5 million by 2022.

“Regional governments have played an important role in modernising the education system by developing smart learning programmes and aligning the education curricula with global teaching standards. The uptake and integration of technologies such as e-learning platforms or use of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) has led to the adoption of more efficient methods of teaching and in turn delivering an enhanced quality of education,” said the Alpen Capital report.

The forthcoming EdX Accelerate Education Summit and Awards 2020, organised by  QNA Marcom is set to host the year’s biggest education event on December 21, 2020.

Ankit Shukla, QNA Media Group managing director, said: “There are numerous bright spots in the future for technological innovation in education, especially with the UAE’s increasing focus on EdTech, the Vision 2021 First-Rate education scheme and the government’s investment in ICT and education technology, which is expected to reach $2.72 billion in 2021. The UAE is an emerging hub for technology in education, with schools and universities rapidly adopting the latest in the field.”

Similarly, RewirEdX, a two-day virtual conference which concluded on Wednesday pointed out that the education sector has witnessed huge disruption.

“Education technology can mean a lot of things to people, the worst examples I’ve seen are systems where they’ve taken a text book and digitised it into a PDF so now you can have this on your phone. Technically this counts as education technology, but in reality if young people can read a text book on their smartphone or watch a TikTok video, social media tends to win,” said Tariq Fancy, founder and CEO, The Rumie Initiative, a non-for-profit ed-tech based in Toronto, Canada.

“In between a PDF textbook and what they want to do, there’s a lot of room to build models that deliver quality in learning but which are also engaging. So what we’ve done is that we’ve moved more towards micro-learning, and it’s both because if you learn in 5/6 minute snippets, recent data shows that there is an improvement of over 20 per cent higher learning retention. But the other piece around it is that people will use this even more. The average social media session is 6.5 minutes on Instagram on your phone, but that adds up to 2.5 hours per day – sometimes more. So the idea is that there’s a lot of time but you have to give access in the way people want to use technology, it’s mobile first, it’s short snippets of time for when people have a few minutes. I think those parts are the pieces which are difficult but the more they can be mastered, the more that it’s easy to build a technology solution which is as engaging as the competition,” he said.

“Universities have to repair the inaccessibility for those who are not well off,” added Blair Sheppard, global leader for Strategy and Leadership, PWC. “Education has exacerbated prosperity. It’s got to fix that problem. They’ve gotten prohibitively expensive and therefore inaccessible to a lot of people. And actually, they’ve lost innovation as a result. They’ve got to go way faster than adjusting the curriculum because the world is moving faster. An example we have is that a lot of people who can tell us what’s wrong with it. We have very few people who can help us fix it and we need it immediately.”

“We need certain kinds of technology, and rightly so, to repair the curriculum and change the rate of curriculum. We need to accelerate the degree of the availability across the lifespan, because when people are losing jobs in their 50s, they need to be retooled and brought back to work. And so think about this across the entire course of life, including retirement. And then the final one is actually rethink the core assumptions that cause the problems the world is grappling with at the heart of what they do. And if you say so, what’s the role of business? I think we serve a role in all those things, we need to help them get more efficient and therefore less expensive. We need to link to them so that we ensure that we have the curriculum we need related. The point was made to ensure that they actually help us deal with people who are losing work at later stages and actually manage the bridge. And the final one is to drive a rethink of the core ideas so that actually they’re adapting to the 21st century,” he said.,

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