Technology-integrated education

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Technology-integrated learning is metamorphosing the region’s education landscape, creating an environment of innovation and creativity for students to thrive and excel

 

Recently, a 10-year-old Saudi-based Syrian boy, Zayd Nashed, has been crowned as the Middle East regional winner of the 2018 “Micro:bit Global Challenge” for his entry “Doctor Robot,” a device for helping young asthma sufferers living in dusty regions such as the Arabian Peninsula.

Zayd’s confidence in his ability to design complex technological projects, he told a Saudi-based newspaper, stemmed from his parents’ early introduction of tech into his education. It was his enthusiasm for robotics that led Zayd to enter the London-based competition. Such a pioneering invention of great socio economic significance being developed by a ten-year old boy speaks volumes about the potential of technology-integrated learning in transforming the region’s education landscape and creating an environment of innovation and creativity for students to excel and thrive.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution literally metamorphosing the world, educators cannot stay away from adapting their programmes to ensure children are equipped to meet halfway the world they are going to live.

In a technology-driven and dynamic economy, education institutions must adapt to the rapidly changing requirements and demands of students, who are technology aware and more connected than ever before, and expect education to be the same.

As the future moves rapidly towards digital transformation, children are unaware of the jobs they may have. It is estimated that 85 per cent of today’s jobs will not exist by 2030. Technologies that are said to shape the near future are connected to big data, cloud computing, mobile solutions, the Internet of Things and cognitive computing.

“Today worldwide innovation and creativity are the most important competencies that will make employees and organisation successful,” says Venkatesh PV, Principal Consultant & Business Head at Oman-based RAB. “Those competency needs to be developed from a very young age, with plentiful opportunities given to students to think out of box and do things which are innovative and creative.”

Schools and education institutions should function as the hub of creativity, he says. “But unfortunately in our schools children are made to do only primarily structured activities which are bound by rules and regulations. This thwarts their ability to be creative and go out of the box. We should give children ample opportunities to do and act out of the box. There could be mistakes and pitfalls. But that is part of the game,” he adds.

“Technology is a part of our daily life, just like electricity, food or water,” Fadi Aloul, head of the computer science and engineering department at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), was quoted by the UK-based Arab Weekly. “Using it is no longer an option, it’s a mandate in every sector, whether education, health, utilities or transportation. The goal is to make our life better, more efficient and easier.”

Aloul adds, “Technology can play a significant role in making it easier for students to get the content and apply it in practice. Universities and schools are moving from papers, books and pencils to electronic-books, files and material, with multiple chapters from different authors in one location.”

Venkatesh corroborates saying that college courses and university curricula should be developed keeping in mind the global knowledge economy. “Today, it’s not important where you have got the knowledge from, if you have the knowledge and the competence to exhibit them.  But unfortunately, we are still obsessed with the name of the university or college where one studied, the certifications and courses one obtained, irrespective of the qualification, skills, competencies one is equipped with. Why are we so hell bent on papers? With so much of open source learning available, today one can sit at home and learn so many new things. The focus should be on whether you are able to demonstrate and exhibit the knowledge/ skill, rather than where and how one got the knowledge from,” he concludes.

Data-driven economy

A recent PwC report titled ‘Building the Data Economies of the Future’, produced in conjunction with World Government Summit held in Dubai from February 10 – 12, maintains that every government in the region should promote the promise of data-driven economies. To achieve this, PwC’s research has found that involving young people must lie at the heart of the response.  “Although governments have recognised the need to move towards innovative educational models, reforms generally do not go far enough in disrupting traditional education systems in preparation for a data economy or in providing all young people with the digital skills and opportunities to build and benefit from the data economies of the future,” says Mona Abou Hana, Government Consulting Partner at PwC Middle East. “The purpose of any government educational initiative or public/private partnership should be to put young people in the driver’s seat, as shapers of their own digitised future. To this end, collaboration rather than competition between government, business and academia will bring mutual benefits.”

The Middle East region, especially the GCC countries, has been quick to respond to this trend, as several schools and universities in the region are revamping their educational system to include an array of emerging technologies from e-books to artificial intelligence and robotics. The governments in the region have realized the importance of investing to build a knowledge-based economy and empower students with tools to transform the learning experience.

The UAE has strongly focused on technology in education in the past years, including initiating an Innovation Hub by Oracle in Dubai, which allows students to pitch ideas in the hopes of developing technological breakthroughs. The use of virtual reality and augmented reality is proving very popular in schools and universities alike. These immersive technologies have immense potential to simulate real life experiences.  

Muhammed Nafie is an Assistant Editor at Oman Economic Review.

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