By Simon Penney
UK's Trade Commissioner for the Middle East says Edtech is here to stay and will continue to play a key role long after the coronavirus crisis
As the global economy falters amid the spreading Covid-19 virus and the unfolding uncertainty, industries such as manufacturing and tourism will undoubtedly suffer more than the most. But will there be a silver lining for some other sectors? I, for one, am wishing I had bought shares in Reckitt Benckiser, the British makers of Dettol antibacterial wipes!
As governments around the world put in place social distancing measures designed to contain the outbreak, some companies stand to gain. This includes health tech firms with devices that allow doctors to monitor patients remotely or tech firms that enable employees to work from home. The Economist recently reported that Zoom, an online conferencing firm’s shares rose approximately 11% in the past few weeks.
The same goes for Edtech. As schools and universities across the UAE close for a few weeks to help contain the virus, preparations are underway to avoid disruption to teaching. Schools are reaching out to us parents asking what tech capability we have at home, such as laptops and desk-top computers, and are looking to roll out remote, home-based learning for students. They are beginning to trial different tech solutions to enable this.
Last week, I met several of the UK’s 1,000 Edtech companies who were among the 62 British education companies exhibiting here at GESS, the Global Education Supplies Solutions trade show in Dubai. Many of them have developed innovative online learning and teaching solutions that are already being used in schools across the GCC and that could well be deployed more widely to support at home learning if there are temporary school closures.
Century Tech, one of the companies that our Department for International Trade team is supporting in this region, has developed an award-winning UK teaching and learning platform that enhances teachers’ ability to provide custom support to their students via an online platform they can access at school and at home. The platform is already up and running in more than 12 UAE schools including Jumeirah English Speaking School, Dubai College, Dubai International Academy, and Safa Community School. Children can log on to the platform from any device, anywhere, and can access a variety of interactive and engaging learning modules including English, Maths, and Science. The company is also in the process of adding Arabic language. The system diagnoses the child’s level and capability in each subject area and provides the right materials at the right level to suit the particular child’s learning style, whether that be visual or hands-on.
Actually, significant opportunities for Edtech exist here in the region regardless of the Corona virus. The education systems in the GCC nations are relatively young by global standards and are incredibly dynamic. They are experiencing impressive growth. According to a report by Alpen Capital, the total number of students in the GCC education sector will reach 15 million this year, from an estimated 12.6 million in 2015. To avoid a strain on the education sector and to better support teachers, schools are increasingly turning to technology to enhance students’ learning and provide custom support.
For instance, GEMS Education in the UAE has partnered with UK Edtech solution Kinteract which provides fast feedback to teachers and parents on students’ progress. Meanwhile the UK’s HME Tech has set up two centres of excellence with GEMS schools in the UAE to deliver creative AI solutions for Robotics and Aviation. British company Sciencescope has been awarded a grant by Expo 2020 Dubai to provide software that teaches children about the Internet of Things in two schools in the emirate. Such projects provide just a few examples of how the GCC is leveraging UK Edtech expertise to deliver a best-in-class education for their citizens. And it’s not just Edtech that the UK provides. We have a long history of partnering with the Gulf in schools, universities, English language programmes, vocational training and more.
One of the themes that we will explore at the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai later this year, is “How will we Learn?” What will the classroom of the future look like? Will it even be a classroom? What role will artificial intelligence play? Where else will learning take place? One thing is for sure: Edtech is here to stay and will continue to play a key role in educating students today and in the future, long after we have dealt with the current viral outbreak. Here’s hoping it will be short lived.