Marwan Ahmad Al Sawaleh, Assistant Undersecretary for Support Systems at the Ministry of Education (left), and moderator Hamed Bin Karam, TV presenter at Sama Dubai. Image Credit: Courtesy: Dubai Press Club

Dubai: Officials from the Ministry of Education have revealed new details of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Smart Learning Initiative, which will launch its first phase with the start of the new school year.

Marwan Ahmad Al Sawaleh, Assistant Undersecretary of Support Services at the Ministry of Education, told the Ramadan Majlis organised by Dubai Press Club on Wednesday the initiative’s main goal is to improve educational outcomes and motivate school dropouts to be more interested in studies using modern technology.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Mohammad Bin Rashid Smart Learning Initiative on April 10, 2012.

The initiative, which is part of the UAE Vision 2021, is set to shape a new learning environment in public schools through the launch of ‘smart classes’ that will provide every student with an electronic tablet and access to high speed 4G networks, by 2017.

The budget of the project is estimated at Dh1 billion.

Al Sawaleh said education will remain free in public schools and that students will not have to pay extra.

“We have drawn insights from countries such as Korea, Australia and Turkey that use similar technology. Our five year plan aims to ensure that schools across the UAE surpass the outcomes of these countries.” Al Sawaleh said.

Ali Mihd Suwaidi, Acting Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education, explained that they studied other countries’ technology use and infrastructure.

He said: “The curriculum is entirely designed by the Ministry, it is a national curriculum.”

Al Sawaleh explained that the project’s first phase will involve grade seven students in three schools in Dubai, three in Abu Dhabi, three in Sharjah and two in Ajman.

This group includes boys’ and girls’ schools, some model schools and schools where special needs children have been integrated.

He said: “We chose this criteria so we would be able to gauge the effectiveness of the new system, taking into consideration all factors.

“We will compare the students’ grade six results with the ones we will obtain after the system’s implementation.”

Subjects to be included are science, mathematics and languages.

During the pilot phase, various kinds of tablet computers will be tested, to determine which is most effective.

Children will not take the tablets home with them.

Tablets will be shared between classes of the same school and teachers will control when they are used.

However, Al Sawaleh emphasised that tablets will never be a substitute for books, teachers or the curriculum.

“The initiative is only changing the style of education from its traditional form to an interactive one. The tablets are educational supplements.”

Based on the pilot phase results, the ministry will sign long-term contracts with the tablets providers as well as a telecommunication providers and other partners, Sawaleh explained. “The telecommunication company chosen will build an infrastructure of optic fibre that will cover all the public schools”

The new platform is planned to connect the schools, students, parents and ministry.

“Some of the classes will be filmed and uploaded onto the tablet so parents can see how the teacher taught that chapter.

“The students’ results and work will also be on the tablets so the parents can see everything.” Al Sawaleh explained.

3000 teachers have already been trained on the new system.

He added. “Sixty teachers from the first phase’ schools will go through another five-day training course a week before the school year starts.”