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Generation Z have now overtaken millennials to become the largest generation in the world, making up 32 per cent of the global population. Usually defined as those born between 1995 and 2010, there are 1.4 million of this cohort in the UAE, and they are the primary drivers of the country’s future digital economy — nowhere more so than in the education sector. It’s therefore down to educators and companies to fully understand and meet their needs.

According to the UAE head of LinkedIn Talent Solutions, Ghassan Talhouk, Gen Z do not feel defined by what they studied at university, making a rigid approach to recruitment unsuitable. Rather than fixating on degrees and results, Talhouk argues companies should spend more time understanding the candidate’s personal qualifications, instead. Young people’s entrepreneurial flair needs to be nurtured, too, as a report from HSBC notes that the Middle East has the highest proportion of young entrepreneurs in the world — 63 per cent of the business owners they looked at were aged 35 or under.

Quality time spent with a teacher face-to-face in school is still the most important factor in a child’s education. But the abundance of technology at the fingertips of this connected generation is seeing them look online to supplement their learning. It’s one of the reasons online tutoring is on the rise in the country, while across the world the market is set to grow by 12 per cent each year over the next five years. But in the UAE there is tremendous potential for even more growth, as a report by the Regional Centre for Educational Planning, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, discovered only a modest percentage of students currently use online tutoring, the figures among Emiratis and non-Emiratis being just 2 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.

It [Gen Z] is a group of people that is also comfortable with handling multiple sources of information, as well as integrating online and offline experiences...It’s no surprise then that this generation should be particularly comfortable with online tutoring.

- John Ingram

Improvements in internet connectivity and the increasing importance of excelling at STEM subjects — crucial for clearing highly competitive university entrance exams as well as leading to increased job opportunities — are other reasons for the boost we are witnessing in online tutoring. Yet one reason that flies under the radar are the motivations and behaviours shared by those behind the demand — Generation Z themselves.

It is the first generation to have grown up as true digital natives — immersed in digital technology, the internet, and social media throughout their lives. But it is a group of people that is also comfortable with handling multiple sources of information, as well as integrating online and offline experiences. The vast amounts of information at their disposal also enable Gen Z to be more analytical in their decision-making than previous generations. Raised at a time of global economic stress, Generation Z furthermore tend to be more responsible and pragmatic than millennials, keenly aware of the need to save for the future as well as tending to value job stability over high salaries.

It’s no surprise then that this generation should be particularly comfortable with online tutoring. The flexibility and instant access it offers are ideal for self-directed and responsible Gen Z learners who are looking to supplement their day-to-day studies and are used to seamlessly combining online and offline learning. More so, the online tutoring market is already mature — young people can access exactly what they want, when they want, in terms of study and career development. Most platforms today allow students to easily check tutor credentials and read other students’ reviews, and allow communication with tutors remotely via free phone calls, instant messaging, emails or video calls.

The landscape for digital education

Young people and parents should nevertheless weigh up the pros and cons of online tutoring to fit their needs. On one hand, technical issues, the availability and vetting of quality tutors, as well as the issue of ensuring student motivation through remote learning are just some potential challenges to bear in mind. On the other hand, flexibility to access tutoring around busy schedules, the ability to access more than one expert on particular subjects, and tailored packages that save time and money by not locking a student into regular appointments they may not need are just some of the advantages.

Whether a young learner in the UAE is supplementing their studies or not, it’s a fact that the landscape for digital education is rapidly moving forward in the country, as well as the rest of the world. Those trying to reach this group of learners must therefore be aware of their unique needs, attitudes, and online, social media, and study habits. Only then can they provide the right tools, meaningful content, and the level of personalisation that Gen Z crave from the learning technologies they use.

— John Ingram is CEO of Pamoja Education.

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