The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region took centre stage at Bett – the world’s largest education technology show in London – as it sought to demonstrate just why the region aims to become the top destination for education.
Several countries, from Korea to Norway, showcased how they are embracing education technology. The dominant global presence was however from the MEA, with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE all unveiling their education ambitions.
More choice for all
In his session “Rethinking MEA Education,” Dr Abdulla Al Karam of Dubai school regulator Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) began discussing the growth of the education market in the Middle East and Africa.
“Dubai has around 280 schools all offering different curriculums but going forward we need to offer different type of schools,” said Dr Al Karam. “Excess seats now exist so it has become a parent’s market in terms of choice but we need to widen that choice to create more diverse options. Schools in the UAE, particularly in Dubai, need to differentiate.”
Historically, regulatory environments have often proved problematic for schools setting up in the region adds global education consultant and teacher at Dwight School Dubai Evo Hannan, but this is now changing.
“The MEA is creating more favourable regulatory environments in a bid to diversify economies that have typically been resource-dependent. There is also now a real willingness to pay for high quality international education and for parents to put their incomes directly into their children’s future,” Hannan said.
“Furthermore, UAE states such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi now have many mid-priced offerings, as opposed to say Singapore and Hong Kong which are primarily expensive school markets,” says Hannan.
One predominant area MEA countries are investing in is digital and vocational skills that are more closely aligned with industry and can help guarantee students work on completion, an area the Middle East in particular has previously been dragging its heels on.
“Vocational education is a large growing area for us that it is mainly being led by the utility companies,” notes Dr Al Karan. “We have seen many companies in Dubai setting up their own education systems and institutions in-house, so I think we will see more vocational jobs and even more demand for vocational learning.”
Wellbeing comes out on top
A repeated theme throughout the event was student wellbeing. Dr Al Karan asserted that wellbeing was no longer an option in the MEA but a vital component of a student’s life.
A series of wellbeing pillars are now being championed across schools in the UAE due to a recent student KHDA consensus. The three pillars include: “diet and health,” “sleep quality,” “human connection and friendships”.
Dr Al Karan said the survey indicated students preferred teachers or adults who connect and value them over what learning content they had to offer.
Saudi Arabia’s tech makeover
With the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 underway, a session led by Dr Abdullatif Mohammed demonstrated how digital transformation will help realise the country’s vision for education.
Saudi Arabia has the largest GDP in the Middle East and it is throwing some monetary weight to see this vision through. Starting off with the building of a rather ambitious “futuristic megacity’”called Neom which will be completed in 2025.
“US$500 billion is being invested in the city – 30 times the size of Manhattan – an insane amount of investment. In a few years’ time, these oil-rich projects won’t even have that much money. The tech investment is unreal. The Middle East and Africa are very focused in investing in education right now,” added Hannan.
“This digital transformation strategy,” adds Hannan “is being borne out of the kingdom’s previous dependency on oil and its need to invest in human capital and a digital economy.”
The KSA programme Future Gate – to promote digital learning, project-based work and technology-based learning at K12 – also aims to certify around 1,000 teachers by 2022 to teach with digital technology as well as create up to 10,990 smart classrooms.
The initiative will provide digital learning resources and transform traditional school settings to encourage collaboration via virtual classrooms.
Hannan discussed ongoing plans to create “smart schools” that are connected to fire departments, health facilities and medical care, and where data can also be shared and stored to improve student support services.