UAE Covid: Education sector shows remarkable resilience

Dubai - Many feel the pandemic has opened up avenues and possibilities on where the sector can go from here

By Nandini Sircar

Published: Tue 23 Mar 2021, 7:25 PM

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the landscape of the country’s education system forever.

A year ago, when the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 as a global pandemic, educational institutions at every level were sent scrambling and institutions switched to virtual learning, with teachers, students and governments swiftly adapting to an entirely novel way of life. And there is no going back now as we slowly realise that the virus is not going away any time soon.

Managers of the education system at all levels started persevering to increase the efficiency of the delivery models by providing an application and technology platform through digital learning, pushing for equity and quality education and introducing new but effective systems of monitoring, evaluation, budgeting and planning.

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A year later, a rethinking is under way among experts in the country, with a growing sense that some of the changes wrought by the pandemic may last longer than imagined. The consensus is that despite the pandemic upending the education sector, it has been a great learning experience for everyone, opening avenues and possibilities on where the sector can go from here. Consequently, the industry witnessed healthy merger and acquisition activity over the past year, with the UAE strongly advocating public-private partnerships (PPP) through the announcement of Dubai schools, most recently. According to Alpen Capital’s GCC Education Industry Report 2021, the UAE allocated about 15 per cent of its total budget on education, which was higher than countries like the USA and the UK.

New schools despite pandemic

With the education outlook maturing in the region and recent geopolitical developments after the Abraham Accord, the opening of a newly-certified Jewish school is not only a sign of deepening ties between the UAE and Israel, but also a gateway for future knowledge-sharing between the two countries even in higher education and research. Similarly, the Chinese School Dubai (CSD), the first Chinese curriculum school offering K-12 education outside China, opened its doors in Dubai in September amid the pandemic. Notwithstanding a turbulent year ‘when normal life stopped’, it was not just the shift from classrooms to computer screens, but reimagining the roles of schools, teachers, students and parents that played a critical role and amplified the vision of the UAE’s leaders.

The country’s education regulators under the ambit of the Ministry of Education (MoE), did a stellar job while testing ideas about instruction, attendance, evaluation, funding, the role of technology and ultimately the human relationships that held everything together. Meanwhile, overcoming all impediments, many higher educational institutions have been breaking ground with the construction of a state-of-the-art campus in Dubai’s International Academic City. The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UoWD) and Australia’s Murdoch University recently opened their doors to bigger campuses.

Heriot-Watt University Dubai has also been readying for a move into a new state-of-the-art campus in Dubai Knowledge Park this year.

Future-proofing NextGen

All institutes are focused on future-proofing the next generation of students, a task that has become more pertinent following the global academic upheaval caused by the pandemic. Digitally-enabled campuses are conceived to adhere to the latest directives from the government, guaranteeing students’ safety, from blended learning to providing remote access to resources, allowing for the changing landscape of education post Covid-19.

Furthermore, the UAE’s eagerness to embrace highly qualified professional residents by announcing the introduction of golden visas has created a favourable wind for the UAE’s academic community despite the ongoing health-related global challenge. In conclusion, in spite of disrupted classroom routines, national lockdowns and Covid-19 breakouts, UAE’s education sector has proved its resilience and adaptability to innovative digital solutions, with the future looking optimistic for Edtech in a newly blended learning world.

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