How Britain and the GCC are shaping the future of education in a post-Covid world
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How Britain and the GCC are shaping the future of education in a post-Covid world

How Britain and the GCC are shaping the future of education in a post-Covid world

Gulf schools have proven themselves to be resilient, innovative and avid adopters of the latest digital solutions

The global pandemic has reshaped the world as we know it and nowhere more so than the critical world of education. Amid the crisis, more than 1.7 billion students were affected globally.

In the last year, schools and universities have scrambled to enable continuous learning programmes amid disrupted classroom routines, national lockdowns and Covid-19 breakouts.

In general, regional learning establishments have performed outstandingly against the odds and this is thanks to the exponential rise in educational technology (edtech).

Gulf schools have proven themselves to be resilient, innovative and avid adopters of the latest digital solutions in the race to become disruption-proof as the global pandemic continues to play out.

The rise of edtech
Across the world, edtech uptake has soared in the last 12 months. In 2020, the sector was valued at $227bn and by 2025, it is predicted to grow to $404bn.

While the longer-term impact of Covid-19 on education is yet to fully unfold, learning models are set to become more tech-centric and incorporate a range of blending techniques.

The concept of ‘hybrid learning’ – mixed online and in-person education – has been in the offing for several years. Nevertheless, it has been rapidly accelerated by the pandemic.

While most experts agree that face-to-face learning is here to stay – given its ability to provide peer discussion, one-on-one support, group work and well-being support – the pandemic has propelled schools to radically integrate digital technology into everyday teaching.

Overwhelmingly, teachers have witnessed the vast and tangible benefits that digital solutions can bring to the classroom. Edtech allows schools to provide engagement, flexibility, personalisation and accessibility in new and relevant ways.

According to Simon Hay, founder of UK-headquartered Firefly – a company that creates technology for learning continuity and parent engagement – hybrid learning has become more prevalent in Gulf schools where students are only in-house for part of the week to maintain social distancing and keep down numbers.

Hay predicts that the regional vaccine programme will pave the way towards more ‘in-school’ teaching, but the adoption of edtech means that schools are now in a better place to manage disruption and maintain the continuous learning process come what may.

What does the future of learning hold?
The future looks bright for edtech in a newly blended learning world. Technologies such video-assisted remote learning, immersive learning, AI and VR, and on-demand learning have all grown in usage during the pandemic – and their value will live on and become progressively integrated into the classroom for decades to come.

Technological advancements have also paved the way for new educational models, such as the ‘flipped classroom’. This type of blended learning model facilitates the seamless integration of digital resources into a traditional classroom setting and introduces content to students at home, which they can then practice at school, allowing for a more personalised learning experience.

Best-in-class ambition
Across the region, there remains vast demand for e-learning solutions as national governments continue to invest billions of dollars in schools and higher education institutions.

Saudi Arabia is the largest education market in the GCC, with learning comprising the biggest proportion of budgeted government expenditure for 2021.

Likewise in the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait, extensive financial and strategic outlays are being poured into the formation of a digitalised and sustainable education sector.

British edtech in the Gulf
Regional schools and universities are leveraging a global community of partners to help optimise educational systems in the digital age.

Chief among these collaborators is Britain, home to Europe’s largest edtech community and a historically respected education sector. Over half of the ‘European Edtech Top 20’ list hails from the UK, and Britain is home to more than 1,000 edtech companies with expertise in infrastructure, connectivity, hardware, software and content. London’s edtech ecosystem alone is the largest in Europe with an estimated value of $3.4bn.

What’s more, the UK provides access to world-leading university innovation hubs, an entrepreneurial ecosystem and a range of future-focused products and services.

The pandemic has also given rise to entirely new technologies – born of necessity.

For example, Britain’s Firefly launched its new Parent Portal, which combines greater academic insights for parents with all of the administrative tools they need to stay abreast of the child’s education. Partnering with over 600 schools, Firefly is used by more than one million students, teachers and parents, including in the UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

Texthelp, a Northern Ireland based edtech firm, with over 40 million users globally, has supported over 500 Gulf schools with its literacy, accessibility and maths software tools. As the pandemic took hold, Texthelp was able to tailor these tools to enable new ways to assess work, provide instant feedback and support specific needs for online students, resulting in a four-fold increase in users across the region.

And many more British edtech businesses are helping to support the region’s education goals – across sectors such as gamification, robotics and STEM labs.

UK-based company Mangahigh is helping over 400 schools in the Gulf to teach and engage students in math through game-based learning. Using gamification principles and AI, Mangahigh’s vision is to become a renowned regional and global edtech player in STEM education.

In another exciting example, British firm HME is going full steam ahead with the implementation of its fully customised AI, aviation and robotics labs in major UAE universities and schools, and is in talks with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan for imminent future projects.

The UK and the Gulf have historically been strong education partners with many regional leaders attending British learning institutions. As Middle Eastern governments continue to digitalise education policies, the scope for UK edtech collaboration continues to grow.

With proven expertise in both pedagogy and technology, British companies are set to continue to play an important role in supporting the Gulf’s ambitious and futuristic education ambitions.

Simon Penney is Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East and the British Consul General in Dubai

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