A focused revivalist vision is an invaluable asset for progress and heritage preservation and the eLearning project launched on Monday by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai fully manifests this belief. An astute strategy that seeks to revitalise the spread of online education in the Arab world, the eLearning project, by the end of 2018, aims to reach 50 million Arab children between Kindergarten and Grade 12 through the translation of 5,000 videos and 11 million words with emphasis on mathematics and science. All members of the Arab community who possess the skills to translate curated works of science and maths by the project committee have been invited to enrol in this endeavour.

With this, the UAE has, in an ingenious move, reconnected powerfully with the Islamic Golden Age (8th century to 13th century, approximately) that bequeathed a vast knowledge treasury to the world underpinned by the fiery spirit of enquiry. For about 500 years or more, the Arabic language, according to historians, was in perfect alignment with scientific and mathematical pursuits driven by the hunger for learning.

A trenchant aspect of the knowledge mastery by Arabs was the Translation Movement initiated by rulers of the time — scientific information in Arabic was made available in other languages while Arabs channelled foreign knowledge treasuries through translations into Arabic. It was a period that proved that civilisations can collaborate, rather than clash, if the virtue of mutual enrichment is delineated well by a wise politic and Arabs achieved this collaboration with remarkable acuity. For example, it was Arabs who facilitated the spread of the Indian number system and arithmetic throughout the world. The eLearning project’s call for translation as a core strategy thus has a deep resonance with history.

The timing of the project is also critically relevant. Numerous studies and surveys reveal the lacunae in learning in modern Arab societies. For example, only 1 per cent of global research and development is contributed by Arab scholars while the quality of science and maths education at schools in the Arab world ranks at 3.9 out of 7 according to a World Economic Forum report.

Clearly, much needs to be done and the UAE, always at the forefront of driving metamorphoses, leads the way in reviving the spirit of Arab learning and knowledge creation for generations to benefit.