Here’s how these trends are shaping the future of education
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Here’s how these trends are shaping the future of education

Here’s how these trends are shaping the future of education

Malakeh El Haj, Director of Knowledge & Innovation at Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation tells us education is changing at a pace quicker than ever before, driven by the use of innovative technologies

Gulf Business
Here’s how these trends are shaping the future of education

What are the education trends emerging post-pandemic?

The pandemic saw a rapid rise in the adoption of technology across all industries, including education. Our students today are ‘digital natives’, which makes it imperative for educators and institutions to rethink and reconsider their online strategies. Technology has encouraged students to approach education differently while being a vessel to facilitate learning.

This shift has made us realise that online or digital learning has the potential to become the dominant means of delivering education.

As we’ve seen during the pandemic, remote learning is becoming increasingly popular across all educational levels, giving students the flexibility, they require. This shift in the mode of delivering encourages independent learning and allows for micro-learning techniques. Students will benefit from individualized educational experiences that are modified to their personal learning needs. The emergence of micro-learning, a bite-sized learning technique, allows instructors to curate digestible content of wider topics that can lead to increased retention.

We have enough proof today that online education can also foster a culture of continuous life-long learning, which is essential for the economic growth and development of today’s society; and can help prepare students for the challenges of a globalized economy.

What is the foundation/ institution doing to support the new academic landscape in the UAE?

Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation (AGF) was founded with the purpose to empower Emirati and Arab youth by providing various education to employment pathways allowing them to thrive and contribute to the development of the region. Through data-driven research and evidence-based educational programs, we have collaborated with various educational institutions, and have ongoing collaborations with the public and private sectors as well as NGOs and international agencies.

Education is changing at a pace quicker than ever before with the use of newer technologies every passing year, and we believe in cultivating sustainable innovative learning solutions to ensure our youth are ahead of the curve.

We aim to impact 200,000 learners by the year 2025.

The UAE has emerged as a hub for international education. What initiatives are you putting in place to consolidate this position?

The UAE as a nation continues to make great strides in the field of education and AGF is aligned with the priorities of the country to support the vision for the future. In 2020, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, launched the University Consortium for Quality Online Learning (UCQOL) to promote quality online education. Working together with 9 leading universities in the UAE, accredited online programs are being developed and students will have the opportunities to upskill and access a higher level of quality education.

Since the launch of AGF and through the years, we, as an organization have supported the entrepreneurial visions of the youth in the region. With our Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Innovation Leadership Bootcamps, Young Thinkers Program and STEM learning programs, we have supported the development of entrepreneurial mindsets and culture in the students’ educational journey.

NOMU is our most recent initiative that AGF launched in early 2022 to empower Emirati and Arab youth with high-quality training and experiential learning opportunities. This initiative was set in place to improve employability with a commitment to educating, upskilling, and reskilling the talent entering the workforce. Through employability pathways like TechUp and Siraj, NOMU offers nano degrees and workplace learning opportunities to develop new skills and participate in immersive and tailored training programs across various specialisations.

Why is the UAE extensively investing in education?

Since its establishment in 1971, the country has placed education as a cornerstone of building a community that can keep pace with the necessary changes to the economy. There is a great understanding that, for the nation to flourish, for society to prosper, and for communities to be inclusive, investment in education is a must. There are constantly new initiatives being launched to support students across all educational levels, from primary to tertiary.

H.E Dr Ahmed Belhoul Al Falasi, the UAE Minister of Education recently announced the advanced skills strategy that establishes the concept of lifelong learning for citizens and residents in the UAE to achieve development goals.

Providing the right educational path allows the students in the country to compete at an international level and enter the workforce fully prepared. The UAE’s commitment to education encourages a new generation of game-changers and innovative thinkers. Equipped with the right tools and skills to enter the workforce, our youth will be able to advance our society forward and diversify the economy.

And we believe our role as a philanthropic organisation has been instrumental in harmonising the ecosystem of multiple sector stakeholders to fulfil our country’s vision.

What is driving the perception shift to digital education?

The increase in demand for online education is undeniable, the younger generation is keen on having more flexibility in their education, and digital education offers that flexibility that they are looking for. Moreover, online education allows students to explore their entrepreneurial spirit as they tend to have more time to invest in personal learning and development.

From an employer’s point of view, many now feel more confident in hiring graduates with online degrees as they are much better equipped to cope with remote or hybrid working models.

Online learning is already part of the normal reality for many. There are governments, universities, and students around the world who already fully appreciate how online learning addresses the demands of tomorrow’s market and have embraced the challenge of assuring the best combination of high-quality teaching, learning, assessment, and technology to engage learners.

What challenges are institutions facing when transitioning to online learning?

Starting in March 2020, there was a sudden shift from offline, in-person education to online education, which posed various challenges.

There was a need among Higher Education institutions to gain a better understanding of the requirements and capacities needed to deliver online learning in an ever-changing educational environment characterized by new expectations and mandates for flexibility and access- educator and institutional readiness, inconsistent student experiences, gaps in student access and readiness, and the ability for the institutions to fill those gaps are just some of them.  And this is why we collaborated with the Ministry of Education to establish University Consortium for Quality Online Learning (UCQOL) to strengthen existing online programs, develop high-quality accredited online courses and programs and make them more accessible to learners.

Similarly, we partnered with American University Beirut to launch the “Abdulla Al Ghurair Hub for Digital Teaching and Learning” and helped upgrade the existing infrastructure to be more digital, adaptive, flexible, and interactive to provide greater access to education across many more fields of study. To date, the Hub has launched 4 programs under which 43 courses have been delivered, including an Engineering Management master’s degree, and 3 Graduate Professional Diploma in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, Project Management Professional, and Green Technologies.  Additionally, the Hub has aligned itself to industry needs, to fill a gap in the regional higher education and online education market.

What are your views on collaboration between academic institutions in the country? Is collaboration important for the future of education?

Collaboration between institutions is extremely crucial, not just within the UAE, but across the region and the world – both public and private partnerships. Such collaborations help with the exchange of innovative ideas and best practices, whilst helping with serving a larger geographical area and a greater number of students, willing to learn and pursue quality education.

Without collaboration, initiatives like UCQOL wouldn’t work. For the first time nine leading universities in the region, came together to devise a multi-phased project that embedded change management and differential focus in its work and has launched eight high-quality blended courses, trained close to 70 faculty members to deliver high-calibre online courses, and the program has benefitted more than 7,500 students across the region.

How is online education (degrees) being perceived in the job market?

I think it is very much in rapid transition. The pace picked up during and post-pandemic, and now employers are a lot more confident with hiring graduates who completed their degrees virtually. This is also partially due to the developments that institutions have made, with the help of technology, to provide their students with a holistic approach to education.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the quality of education, not the modality, as employers now evaluate potential employees on a wide range of characteristics – technical skills, personality, and soft skills.

What impact is education having on the local economy and achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SGD 4)?

We have ample studies today that prove the impact education and training have on the economy.  Increased investment in education leads to increased economic growth resulting in higher salaries for individuals, greater workforce effectiveness, and higher gross domestic product. This is why we need more businesses to become involved in educational issues and it’s also in their interest. If we want higher rates of broad-based economic growth in this country, which will help support the prosperity of many businesses, we need to increase our labour force skills.

Education serves as a foundational component and is considered a driver for the achievement of all 17 SDGs not just SDG 4. Higher levels of education are associated with lower poverty rates and health risks. With education, countries have a greater capacity to assemble and maintain the physical building blocks of progress, health, and security.

While the links have yet to be articulated clearly for some of the more specific goals, the importance of education as a pillar for the achievement of human development challenges is both indisputable and comprehensively established.

By investing in education, we are empowering a generation to raise their ambition, realize their talent, and reward their communities as responsible citizens who give back to them and create ripples of impact felt across future generations.

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