EDTECH AND COVID-19

HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: ABU DHABI PROOF OF CONCEPT

As education turns to remote learning, there is an opportunity for the UAE to define itself as a world leader within “EdTech."

A helicopter flies over the downtown skyline, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike


Across the world, most governments have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. At present, UNESCO estimates that these nationwide closures are impacting over 90% of the world's student population.

In the UAE, the Ministry of Education announced the early start of spring vacation for both public and private schools, colleges and universities, and ordered the closure of all educational institutions from March 8 for four weeks. These facilities have been closed ever since as the crisis spread across the world.

With around 1.1 million pupils in the UAE's schools, full closure was seen as a necessary preventative measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. The necessary break has allowed for sterilization and cleaning to be carried out at educational facilities.

Furthermore, the Ministry was also quick to announce e-learning initiatives, and these are now being successfully implemented in all schools and colleges. From March 22, distance learning has been implemented and will be pursued until the end of the academic year. The first tele-school day for state schools was attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He was quick to affirm on Twitter how the UAE is well-positioned in the e-learning space. “We have invested in smart learning during the past ten years a lot, today we reap the fruit" he explained.

Teachers, students, and parents have had to transition quickly to distance learning. There are some obvious and potential drawbacks to remote learning, including restricted peer interaction, connection challenges, and even motivation issues for students.

However, in principle, this period is giving educators the chance to refine the e-learning experience and overcome these limitations.

There is feeling in the near term that the global education sector will see a substantial increase in investment in EdTech, as digital-first classrooms and tools required by schools, students, and teachers will become a priority in the new normal.

Geoffrey Alphonso, CEO of Abu Dhabi-based k-12 education technology company Alef education told The Business Year that he foresees “a surge by education institutions who will fast-track their digital transformation agendas and learn from current events which to date have displaced more than 1.3 billion learners globally."

The digital-first strategy is already core to the UAE's 2021 vision; there is perhaps a unique opportunity for the UAE to become a leader within the EdTech space.

Overall, the UAE has been quick to explore and adapt to digital e-learning, which has seen substantial investment over the last decade. In Abu Dhabi, many incubators, accelerators, and venture capital investors have also been quick to realize the potential of the global education technology market, which is expected to be worth around USD40 billion by 2022.

In addition to this, as COVID-19 has, in many ways, advanced the viability of distance learning globally, this could also be a boon for developing nations. Countries with less advanced infrastructure, notably a lack of reliable transport links have more obvious barriers to learning, EdTech can enable learners to overcome these challenges.