Virtual learning: Integrating technology into curricula is a key area of focus

Information and communications technology (ICT) will play an increasingly important role in Kuwait’s schools and universities in the next few years. Indeed, two state-funded projects under way could potentially transform the education sector over the course of the coming decade. The government’s Education Net project, which is currently in development, aims to connect every government school and library to a data network. According to the Ministry of Education (MoE), which is overseeing the programme, the Education Net is meant to facilitate e-learning in classrooms, as well as to increase interaction and collaboration among schools, teachers and students. At the university level, meanwhile, the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) is in the process of setting up a virtual university that would allow Kuwaitis to earn qualifications by taking classes on-line.

POISED FOR GROWTH: Kuwait is uniquely well placed to benefit from these programmes. The country has relatively high internet penetration rates, and most Kuwaitis regularly make use of computers and mobile devices. According to data from the International Telecommunications Union, as of 2011 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) just over 74% of the population used the internet, 69% of households had computers and nearly 58% of had an internet connection. Under the government’s ongoing National Strategy for Building an Information Society programme, which recognises ICT development as a top priority, these figures are expected to continue to improve for the foreseeable future. The introduction of new ICT initiatives to the education sector, therefore, is expected to have a positive impact on a substantial percentage of the population.

The government has a history of investing in ICT within the education sector. Indeed, the MoE began looking at integrating technology into public schools in the early 2000s. While most university students had access to a computer during this period, internet usage only became common in the educational system at large in the middle of the decade. In 2005 the Gulf University for Science and Technology, a private institution based in Kuwait, became the first entity in the region to make use of organised e-learning when it began using digital multimedia tools to support and augment teaching.

In 2010 the MoE signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft Kuwait to launch the New Technology Infrastructure Project, as part of which Microsoft agreed to supply cloud computing centres and databases in more than 350 middle and secondary schools. A project to digitise textbooks was launched in 2011, with the long-term goal of replacing traditional textbooks with e-books in all secondary schools. As of October 2012, according to local media reports, all textbooks had been digitised.

NEW PROJECTS: The Education Net project has been in the works since at least 2009, though the initiative was officially launched in 2012. The programme, which is expected to be implemented over the next 10 years, will use wireless internet networks to facilitate learning in public schools. While most schools currently provide wired internet facilities for their students and staff members, the introduction of wireless technology is expected to have a positive knock-on effect in terms of overall costs and accessibility.

Wireless networks are substantially more flexible than their wired counterparts – teachers, students and administrators would be able to carry out a variety of tasks simultaneously on a single network. By outfitting schools with wireless internet, students and staff will be able to make use of smart devices, such as tablet computers, which could potentially allow for increased interactivity, multimedia use and on-line collaboration in classrooms and at home.

ON-LINE LEARNING: KFAS’s virtual university project, meanwhile, also has the potential to transform higher education. While the initiative is only in the early planning and development stages, according to local media reports it will involve the establishment of a digital infrastructure that will allow a wide variety of organisations to offer education and training on-line. The project will likely initially be developed to meet the specific needs of local universities, though it could eventually also be used by private companies and government entities to offer remote training programmes for employees. In an academic setting, lectures and assignments might be viewed on-line, while exams would likely take place in person.

The success of both the virtual university project and the MoE’s Education Net initiative will rely in large part on the ability of teachers and administrators to make use of new technologies. “GUST was built with technology in mind,” said Robert Cook, the vice-president for academic affairs at the university. “However, training the faculty to use that technology is an ongoing challenge.” Provided this challenge is addressed, the virtual university project could change the way higher education is provided in Kuwait.

ENCOURAGING ENTREPRENEURSHIP: In addition to ensuring that all Kuwaiti students have access to high-quality education at all levels, both the government and private sector entities from around the world have worked to support and encourage young Kuwaiti entrepreneurs in recent years. The National Technology Enterprises Company (NTEC), which was founded in late 2002 by the Council of Ministers, has a mandate to invest in new technology projects in both the private and public sector. With this broad goal in mind, the firm, which is a subsidiary of the Kuwait Investment Authority, has established alliances with a wide variety of foreign universities and firms, including the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin (UTA); the UK-based University of Cambridge; and Microsoft.

BRIDGING THE GAP: Encouraging local students and recent graduates to establish new technology companies in Kuwait is considered to be one of NTEC’s core objectives. In January 2011 the firm launched the Global Bridge Initiative (GBI), a four-year programme that aims to bring together higher education institutions, private sector firms and local entrepreneurs with the long-term goal of turning Kuwait into a regional centre for technology development.

The programme, which was established in conjunction with UTA, KISR, Kuwait University and a number of private industrial partners, was developed with a handful of measurable objectives in mind. These include identifying and commercialising local innovations; facilitating the transfer of new technologies into the country; identifying, training and providing capital for Kuwaiti entrepreneurs; and accelerating knowledge transfer between local players and foreign entities. Since the programme’s launch in early 2011 Kuwaitis have benefitted from training in new technologies at one of the initiative’s three Commercialisation Centres of Excellence, which focus on ICT; life sciences; and energy, water and clean technology.

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The Report: Kuwait 2013

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