Abu Dhabi: With the emergence of comprehensive online learning, the UAE will be able to confidently set up towns that do not have any schools within them within the next five years, top industry experts said in the capital on Tuesday.
All the learning will take place online to serve a generation that thrives on its tablets and smartphones, they added, speaking at a panel convened on the second day of education conference Bett Middle East and Africa.
“There are schools in Saudi Arabia that allow students to pursue their full K-12 education online, and there is already a school that offers this in Dubai. As the technology continues to spread, we will see many more such schools. Despite educator fears, we cannot deny the fact that education will soon be conducted online, using a variety of tools like virtual reality and artificial intelligence that simply make learning more effective,” Dr Fahem Al Nuaimi, chief executive officer at the UAE’s Advanced National Research and Education Network (Ankabut), told Gulf News.
Ankabut is a Khalifa University initiative that connects academia to advanced IP networking in a bid to enhance collaboration, knowledge-sharing and research. The initiative has already connected 85 educational institutions in the UAE, including top universities and schools, and provides links with universities in the United States, Canada and Japan.
“With the advances in technology, even assessing students remotely can be made secure, and I believe universities and their courses will soon be available not just online but through smartphones. In this environment of rapid change, educators must retrain themselves to cater to a generation that is already far more tech-savvy. Otherwise, the GCC will continue to suffer from the skills gap that gives it the highest rate of unemployment worldwide,” Dr Al Nuaimi said.
Online learning can also effectively serve disadvantaged populations in a way that traditional forms of education cannot, experts said.
“We support 900 students from across the region with their education, and 17 per cent of them are refugees based in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen. These students would not have access to graduate education, but our online degrees allow them to get the advanced learning they need and join the workforce,” said Maysa Jalbout, chief executive officer at the Abdullah Al Gurair Foundation for Education.
The foundation is a philanthropic organisation that provides funded undergraduate and graduate education opportunities to high-achieving Arab students in need, and many of the 30 Master’s degrees on offer are conducted online.
Jalbout explained that some of the degrees are even provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the Arizona State University.
“We are seeing a lot of interest in these online programmes, even from young professionals who simply want to enhance their qualifications,” Jalbout said.
There are still a few challenges to overcome, however, including students’ fear about pursuing online degrees and English language proficiency.
“This is why we have embedded counsellors at the universities to work with students, and we also help connect students to one another. In the meantime, we are also looking for tech solutions that will be able to help students improve their English language proficiency,” Jalbout said.
Bett Middle East and Africa, which wrapped up in the capital on Tuesday, was organised by British events firm Ascential, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department for Education and Knowledge. It was attended by nearly 2,500 educators, industry experts and government officials.