Dubai: UAE students have started learning through Virtual Reality (VR) under a pilot project of the Ministry of Education, officials said on Tuesday at The Digital Education Show Middle East 2016 in Dubai.

They are using VR headsets to explore worlds and scenarios too difficult or dangerous to experience in real life — such as the destructive effects of climate change or a tour of the International Space Station.

The project is being rolled out in 17 “elite science-stream public schools” in the UAE, said Gemma Escott, Education Specialist, Ministry of Education. A successful VR course was recently held for seventh graders in a school in Dibba, her presentation at Tuesday’s event showed. A video showed how the students responded to climate change studies in a VR science class.

Escott said students using VR are more engaged and eager to learn, which is the idea behind the ministry’s push to deploy the latest technology in the classroom. VR provides a sense of “immersion” into the topic using life-like interactivity with the content.

Students will soon also be learning about the International Space Station through VR, guided by teachers also using VR, she added. The content is made available through services such as Google Expeditions. Escott expects more customised content for schooling in the future as the VR trend grows in education.

VR also helps students develop “emotional intelligence” by being more empathetic and practical regarding emergencies depicted in VR, such as an earthquake aftermath, she added.

“Imagine you’re in a natural disaster [VR] scenario. If you’re a medical student, wouldn’t it be great to see a 360-degree view and get feedback from the instructor on how you’re doing? [VR] lets you feel more equipped and adds another dimension and more dynamics,” Escott said.

Lewis Hall, manager of the Department of English at the ministry, who was co-presenting Tuesday’s session, said VR also allows simulated access to “impossible worlds” such as historical sites from the past. He added that officials are also working to open up a virtual and interactive Oil and Gas plant in the UAE for students’ learning. Hall said VR also allows students to study phenomena such as nuclear reactions that are “too dangerous for the classroom”.

Some of the VR classes have teacher-led and homework modes, while others allow students to roam free and explore on their own.

“We would like to see [VR] classes in every school,” Escott said when asked about the potential for VR-led learning in UAE schools.

Experts at the event said since technology is advancing so fast, educators need to extrapolate the future needs of students.

Andrew Robinson, director of higher education at Cengage Learning, said: “The UAE is focusing on advancing its teaching and learning methods in schools and universities to offer quality education and that is why we are here. It’s not just about us providing products to meet today’s requirement; it’s also about us assessing what the future will bring and how we can effectively gear up to provide solutions for tomorrow’s generation of educators and scholars.”