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A post by the Forbes Technology Council, published in January 2020, outlined several key attributes by industry watchers on how classrooms in future could function. The observations were based on trends and how current generations of students were already viewing technology as an essential tool, forcing education providers to think out of the box and involve everything from virtual and augmented reality to open up possibilities for learning experiences beyond classroom walls.

The impact statement for the post, though, was succinct — teachers are hoping to spend more quality time helping students with their learning instead of just being seen as classroom anchors.

Back home here in the UAE, and in keeping with the outlook for similar global surveys, the education sector is making a comprehensive push to align schools to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students as well. And speaking to a cross section of representatives of premier education institutions in the UAE, what is amply clear is that classrooms of the future is pretty much a reality today, expedited with the onset of the pandemic, and seamless adoption of remote learning practices by students and faculty as a result.

Integrating technology

Jeffrey Smith, iCademy ME

Jeffrey Smith, Director of School Partnerships, iCademy Middle East, a KHDA licensed American online school, believes the institution is perfectly aligned with the UAE Government’s outlook to ensure the nation’s education providers are future prepped. “In many ways, iCademy Middle East is ahead of its time,” says Smith. “Today’s students require greater flexibility in their learning environment than ever before. From frequent travelers to performing athletes and artists, we can no longer require every student to be confined to a single school building for 35 hours per week, 9.5 months out of the year. iCademy students, therefore have access to their learning 24 hours a day and can continue learning from anywhere in the world. Taking attendance is a thing of the past.”

Ataullah Parkar, Principal, International School of Creative Science (ISCS), Nad Al Sheba, which follows the British Curriculum and is part of the Bukhatir Group, agrees wholeheartedly with Smith and then some, saying why the integration of technology in today’s classrooms is imperative for the student’s overall well-being as well.

Ataullah Parkar, ISCS, Nad Al Sheba

“Often, when people talk about building classrooms of the future, they undoubtedly include the integration of technology. Whilst this remains true for us as an Apple school, we’ve also taken heed the need to temper the use of technology against the protection of core skills such as writing presentation, writing stamina, and human to human collaboration,” he says. “Furthermore, work in progress for most schools is carving a substantive approach to well-being, which equips students with the tools to manage mental and physical health. Revisiting holistic education will continue to be our priority, to best prepare students for the future.”

Course of action

While overall well-being is key, the focus on the subjects that literally matter is critical too. For instance, the iCademy Middle East, says Smith, leverages today’s technology to offer a vast suite of courses to spark the curiosity and interest of every student. “We offer world languages such as German, French and Spanish, and career-focused electives ranging from Journalism to Veterinary Medicine,” he says. “By sampling potential career paths in high school, students can discover their passions and choose universities that will best support them.”

Back at ISCS, Parkar is also of the view that the courses and topics taught at the school endeavour to embed key skills, which ISCS believes are fundamental tools for the future progress of its students.

“For example, deciphering texts with a critical eye, having the logical skills to make complex inferences in every subject, or working collaboratively to solve a problem across the curriculum are critical tools for success, in higher education and the workplace,” says Parkar.

“For our older students in particular, our range of subjects aims to ensure that students are exposed to as many skills as possible to solidify their interests, and ISCS is opening a new building next academic year which matches this vision. In addition to traditional subjects, our secondary and post 16 students will be able to study Design and Media Studies, Design and Technology, Food Technology, STEM, and a suite of vocational programmes.”

Parkar feels preparing students for the future means exposing them to as much as possible, and inspiring them to make choices. This, coupled with the soft skills students need to navigate the road ahead, molds them into global citizens, future prepped and ready to take on tomorrow’s challenges.