How UAE and Britain redesign post-pandemic education

Emirates-based schools proved themselves to be ambitious and resilient adopters of the latest digital solutions.

By Simon Penney

Published: Mon 19 Apr 2021, 9:21 PM

Last updated: Mon 19 Apr 2021, 9:26 PM

In the last year, the regional education landscape has evolved at a faster pace than at any time in history. Amid the pandemic, more than one million UAE students saw their education schedules transformed as schools rapidly took their classrooms online.

Against the odds, local learning establishments continued to perform outstandingly by incorporating innovative educational technology (edtech) into their programmes.

Emirates-based schools proved themselves to be ambitious and resilient adopters of the latest digital solutions in the race to become disruption-proof in a changing world.

As a consequence, the UAE digital education market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 10.3 per cent up until 2023 – driven by rising government investment and growing demand for online learning, according to Kenneth Research.

The rise of UAE edtech

While the longer-term impact of Covid19 on education is yet to fully unfold, learning models are set to become more tech-centric and incorporate a range of blended learning techniques.

The concept of ‘hybrid learning’ – mixed online and in-person education – has been a hot topic for many years but the pandemic has rapidly hastened its take-up in the region.

Most experts agree that face-to-face learning is likely to remain an educational staple – given its ability to enable peer discussion, one-on-one teaching and promote wellbeing – yet the pandemic has also propelled schools to radically integrate digital technology into everyday teaching.

Overwhelmingly, teachers have witnessed the vast and tangible benefits that digital solutions can bring to the classroom. Edtech allows schools to provide engagement, flexibility, personalisation and accessibility in new and relevant ways.

According to Simon Hay, founder of UK-headquartered Firefly – a company that creates technology for learning continuity and parent engagement – hybrid learning has become more prevalent in UAE schools where students are only in-house for part of the week to maintain social distancing and reduce classroom numbers.

Firefly currently works with a growing portfolio of schools in the UAE, including The British School Al Khubairat and Cranleigh Abu Dhabi.

Hay predicts that the UAE vaccine programme roll-out will pave the way back towards more ‘in-school’ teaching, but the adoption of edtech means that schools are now in a better place to manage disruption come what may.

Blended learning

The future looks bright for edtech in a blended learning world. Technologies such video-assisted remote learning, immersive learning, AI and VR, and on-demand education have all grown in usage during the pandemic – and their value will live on and become progressively integrated into the classroom for decades to come.

Technological advancements have also paved the way for new educational models, such as the ‘flipped classroom’. This type of blended learning model integrates digital resources into a traditional classroom setting and introduces content to students at home, which they can then practice at school.

UAE commitment to edtech

In the UAE, there remains vast demand for e-learning solutions as the government continues to invest billions of dirhams in schools and higher education institutions.

As well as establishing the world’s first dedicated AI University, the government is actively introducing fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies, such as robotics and blockchain, into its education system. In an ongoing example, the UAE is rolling out its award-winning AI-powered ‘Alef’ platform into all public schools to infuse the curriculum with digital innovation.

British edtech in the UAE

UAE schools and universities are working with a global community of organisations to help ready educational systems for the digital age. Chief among these partners is Britain, home to Europe’s largest edtech community and a prestigious traditional education sector.

Over half of the ‘European Edtech Top 20’ list hails from the UK, which is home to more than 1,000 edtech companies with expertise in infrastructure, connectivity, hardware, software and content. London’s edtech ecosystem alone is the largest in Europe with an estimated value of $3.4 billion.

With a strong track record in education, the UK has a broad network of university innovation hubs, an entrepreneurial ecosystem and a wide array of future-focused products and services.

Educational innovation

Many British edtech companies are already active in the UAE and the wider Gulf, across sectors such as hybrid learning, educational software and research tools.

British design, technology and science equipment firm HME has implemented customised robotics labs across a handful of UAE prominent universities. Working with the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, the firm has installed a digital fabrication lab for CAD-CAM and metal working skills in a blending learning environment. HME is also working closely with Ajman University to supply a hybrid-learning lab for mechanical engineering and welding.

In another innovative example, UK-based company Mangahigh, is helping schools in the UAE – including Dubai British School, Raha International School and Dubai GEMS Private School – to engage maths students through game-based learning. With gamification techniques proven to help engage students internationally, Mangahigh has set its sights on becoming a regional and global STEM education edtech player.

Meanwhile, British-headquartered firm Wizenoze is helping local schools cut through internet ‘noise’ by serving up safe and highly relevant content to students, leveraging a mix of data algorithms and human curation. The innovative firm is currently undertaking pilot schemes in several UAE schools, while targeting learning management providers, publishers and governments across the Gulf

Growing edtech partnership

The rising trend of British edtech companies working with the UAE builds on a legacy of decades of education partnership between the countries.

The two nations have historically enjoyed a strong pedagogical relationship, with many national leaders attending British learning institutions. What’s more, several British universities, including Heriot-Watt University, the University of Birmingham and London Business School among others, have successfully launched campuses in the Emirates.

As the UAE continues to push ahead with world-class digital education policies, the scope for UK edtech collaboration only continues to grow.

Simon Penney is Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East, and British Consul-General to Dubai and the Northern Emirates

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