Human Resources

Krishna Gopal (Middle East) - Education: Is IT in ME?

When I sat down to write on IT in education in the Middle East, I thought to myself that it was so very crucial to set the context of education itself in the Middle East.

Middle East looked at from the GCC context, is an expat-led region. The general attitude amongst the expat population is much like the atmosphere in the back room of fighter pilots out on sorties - forced boisterousness coupled with back slapping while it all lasts; after all, who knows, you or your best pal might never return after the next sortie. Consequently, the expat population doesn't think long-term and this certainly includes children's education.

In fact, children getting to Class 10 or 12 is a milestone in the careers of Asian expats. Either they wind up and head home or just send the child back to the care of grand parents or to a hostel. However in the past decade, University education has improved in some of the GCC countries, led largely by the UAE and closely followed by Qatar.

Almost all of the GCC countries will have schools catering to the different nationalities who live there - Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, British, American, French and of course the local Arabic schools. Since the region is prosperous, it is never an issue of availability of technology or bandwidth that decides the IT adoption in schools. The decision is about the segment of the population that a school may cater to and the reflection of the practices that any particular nationality's school may follow in its own nation back home.

Having said that most children after a certain age tend to carry mid- to high-end smart phones that allow them to access the net. Again whether it's allowed to be carried into the classroom is dependent on the school's rules. Students also have access to laptops or tablets at home but I doubt if these devices are used as a part of the pedagogy at the schools. American schools will be different in this aspect.

Schools do have modern computer labs with the latest hardware and software to conduct classes as part of the curriculum. Assignments might involve them having to browse the net and access different web resources to complete them. Again, there is this perceptible divide between the Asian schools and the European/American schools on the extent of IT use.

The elite locals, and most of them are in this category, send their children to European or American schools in the country or have a combination of private tutors plus Arabic schools. And most times after Grade 10 they are sent to institutions in the US or Europe anyway.

As I indicated earlier, University education has caught up in the GCC and you have leading international institutions like London Business School, INSEAD etc. that have set up shop. So at this level there is an active deployment of IT in education. Web-based collaboration, video conferencing, private tutoring via video chats etc. are the order of the day, though some countries like the UAE do restrict usage of Skype. Leading tech firms like Microsoft, Google, Cisco etc. have an ongoing university engagement program by assigning a full-time team to help develop adoption of their respective technologies by the institutions. E-learning software is also deployed to help track the course progression and the assignments.

Participants at the University level can also access free course ware from sites like Stanford University or Coursera to add to their formal training. Access to the internet is more or less ubiquitous and the bandwidth is good. The exceptions are in the spread out nations like Saudi Arabia or Oman where in the rural areas the situation is likely to be very different, in terms of both IT adoption as well as access to international education standards.

GCC governments are making investments on IT in the education sector. One of the biggest projects in the education space is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, called the Princess Nora Bint Abdul Rahman University. In a country that is known for its restrictions on the feminine gender, this is a huge development and a sign of progress. The campus is almost a city and the IT investment opportunities had vendors scrambling for a piece of the action.

This iconic project is leading to similar projects across the region of differing scales and augurs well for IT companies seeking projects in the Middle East in the area of education.


By Krishna Gopal, Independent Consultant in the Middle East and Africa. Follow him on Twitter @krishg40 or read his regular blog here.



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