The UAE’s drive towards online benefits not just students, but also schools and teachers, argues John Ingram, the CEO of Pamoja Education.
The Digital Revolution is here, and while sectors such as finance and manufacturing have led the charge, technology is now firmly establishing itself in the UAE’s schools. Nothing can replace face-to-face teaching, but classrooms are now moving away from rows of desks and rigid schedules to environments that foster active collaboration between students, teachers, and digital learning tools. Tablets are widely used in schools, and homework is regularly completed and submitted online.
The UAE is in many ways a regional leader when it comes to incorporating technology in education, as the government aims to realise the potential of a growing young population, where 34 per cent are under the age of 25. This new generation will consume information in a different way to those that have come before.
Online or e-learning, is one fundamental pillar of these new educational technology approaches. The government sees e-learning as the fastest way to bridge the educational gap in the country, showing real commitment to building a supportive infrastructure. Last year, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, introduced the Madrasa portal, the largest e-learning platform in the Arab world, serving more than 50 million K-12 Arab learners. There have been further e-learning initiatives in the UAE, with US Edtech company Blackboard establishing a centre for excellence, based at the Higher Colleges of Technology, to promote best practices in online teaching.
Anytime, anywhere, anyone
How exactly is online learning set to benefit schools, teachers, and students? Today’s economy demands that we continuously renew our skills throughout our lives, meaning that the flexibility offered by online learning is indispensable – allowing people to redefine their career paths, learn new skills, and remain competitive in the labour market. As many of the jobs that will be available in 10 years may not even exist yet, there is a serious need for ongoing, specialised education that does not fit the residential degree model. Furthermore, online learning is sometimes the only educational solution that can be fitted around professional life.
Blended learning environments, which combine traditional face-to-face classes alongside online and virtual learning environments, can also be a crucial aid for teachers who struggle with administrative workloads. Digital products are now available that provide entire courses online, broken down into pre-prepared lessons, assessment materials, and student activity monitoring tools, greatly reducing the time spent on course preparation, marking, and reporting. In such cases, with course content all on a single online platform accessed by both student and teacher, the time that is freed up for teachers is considerable and enables them to focus their efforts more strongly on teaching in the classroom.
A UCL Institute of Education study in the UK found that online learning also helped prepare students for university in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, the study found that students took greater ownership of their learning. They were more likely to set goals based on their own performance, less likely to rely on university tutors for help, and better able to manage their own studies. All those surveyed agreed that studying online prior to university had increased their independence as learners – an increasingly vital skill in the work environment of the future.