Schools have started to embrace innovative and interactive tools to improve classroom experience Image Credit: Shutterstock

The UAE’s education landscape has been fast evolving as there is an increased emphasis on going beyond curriculum-based learning to the professional development of students through the use of the latest technology and innovative teaching methods.

“Learning has moved from being teacher-centred to increasingly student-centred — from being ‘chalk and talk’ to flipped and blended learning — as IT and the internet have become increasingly integrated into the students’ learning experience,” says Jasmine Anand, COO of Springdales School, Dubai.

While there is still an overemphasis on standardised testing, she says the accent is increasingly upon approaches to learning, the replacement of a subject driven curriculum to one that is integrated, from being narrowly academic and knowledge-based to one that is based on the development of transferable skills.

We are now more interested in the development of deep learning, which can have an impact on innovation, rather than cramming facts for a test that will have little relevance to the life-long experience of today’s students.

- Jasmine Anand, COO of Springdales School, Dubai

Schools operating in the UAE realise that today’s competitive and ever-changing socio-economic environment calls for adopting future-oriented learning and teaching techniques that can better prepare their students for the workplace.

“We are now more interested in the development of deep learning, which can have an impact on innovation, rather than cramming facts for a test that will have little relevance to the life-long experience of today’s students,” says Anand.

Technology-driven education

Central to this evolution is technology, which is allowing schools to

embrace innovative and interactive tools, encouraging young students to learn digital skills that will help them better prepare for the future.

Raffles International School (RIS), for instance, has embraced artificial intelligence (AI) as a platform to complement classroom teaching and learning.

Through our AI platforms, student profiles are developed in order to identify how each student can learn most effectively, and to address any ‘gaps’ they may have in their learning.

- Tim Richardson, Principal at Raffles International School (RIS)

“Through our AI platforms, student profiles are developed in order to identify how each student can learn most effectively, and to address any ‘gaps’ they may have in their learning,” says Tim Richardson, Principal at RIS.

Dubai British School (DBS), says Neal Oates, Assistant Head (Whole School), encourages students to be innovative with their approach to learning and allows teachers to take risks in the classroom.

“This encourages an enterprising and innovative learning experience, which is key to preparing young people for the future. Underpinning this we embrace technology and use it as a tool where it enhances a learning activity,” he says.

Dubai British School (DBS) encourages students to be innovative with their approach to learning and allows teachers to take risks in the classroom. This encourages an enterprising and innovative learning experience, which is key to preparing young people for the future.

- Neal Oates, Assistant Head (Whole School), Dubai British School (DBS)

Giving specific examples of this, Oates says they run a school-wide BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programme in the secondary phase for all students. “We also give every student access to an Office 365 subscription allowing them to have industry level tools to work with through both the primary and secondary phase,” he adds.

Whereas, the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD), provides all their students (Grade 4 onwards) access to Microsoft Cloud-based productivity tools such as Email, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

“In partnership with teachers, our technology innovation department designs, develops and implements instructional content, courses and projects leading to a fully immersive STEM integration,” says Amir Yazdanpanah, Head of Technology Innovation at SISD.

In partnership with teachers, our technology innovation department designs, develops and implements instructional content, courses and projects leading to a fully immersive STEM integration.

- Amir Yazdanpanah, Head of Technology Innovation at Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD)

Identifying students’ needs

Big data and analytics, which dominate the world of business have begun to have a major impact on the education sector too. These are helping educators better understand the students’ needs and more easily identify areas for improvement.

“Use of deep dive analysis of student’s performance through analytical tools like spreadsheets and databases helps us identify areas of strength and weaknesses and then build on them,” says David Hicks, Principal, Dubai International Academy, Al Barsha.

Use of deep dive analysis of student’s performance through analytical tools like spreadsheets and databases helps us identify areas of strength and weaknesses and then build on them.

- David Hicks, Principal, Dubai International Academy, Al Barsha.

He says the use of AI-based tool, Century Tech, helps them to extend student’s individual educational needs in the core subjects.

Application in the real world

Aside from technology, RIS last year introduced BTEC courses, which provide secondary school students with a strong programme of study closely linking academics with the application of learning in a real world, vocational context.

Another initiative that DBS has taken is the development of STEAM Garden, which combines technology with nature and allows students to consider the sustainability of technology and how they might positively impact the world around us.

Encouraging creative thinking

While the role of technology in education is expected to continue to grow in the future, Richardson points out that it is also important that schools focus on teaching students to be “developers of technology, not simply consumers”.

“At RIS, students are taught to problem solve, build and programme, not just use technology,” he says.

DBS’ Oates says how we prepare young people for the future is often seen as a challenge with regard to enhancing their digital literacy.

“However, the reality is what differentiates young people from AI and tech-based solutions is their creativity, empathy and communication skills,” he adds. “As such the issues around preparing students for the future is often too technology driven.”

Anand of Springdales School expects the next phase in the tech revolution to challenge and alter the concept of what schools are for.

“We are already in danger of neglecting the importance of soft interpersonal skills and an emphasis on developing a moral compass and understanding of the importance of wellbeing to 21st-century living,” she says.

“Thankfully, these are being addressed in the UAE,” says Anand.