Learning network: Using technology to help push the boundaries of education

Technology has become a more common feature of education globally over the past 20 years, and Bahrain is no exception. Indeed, the country has increasingly turned towards greater use of technology in education. This is partly because the ubiquity of computers means that learning how to use them is an indispensable part of a modern education, but also because judicious use of technology in the classroom, and e-learning generally, has the potential to raise standards.

Partnering Up

Bahrain has been working in partnership with some of the biggest names in the IT sector for over a decade. It signed its first Education Transformation Agreement (ETA) with Microsoft in 2004 to create a central e-learning portal and train the teaching corps in its use. In February 2015 the Ministry of Education (MoE) signed another ETA with Microsoft, to last five years, which will see the company working with the MoE to run three programmes in over 200 schools. These initiatives revolve around equipping schools with resources for technology education; working with administrators, teachers and pupils to use technology to encourage innovation; and increasing employability and providing training and certification for technological and computer skills.

The MoE is also considering extending the use of technology further. In February 2015 local press reported the education minister, Majid bin Ali Al Nuaimi, as saying that the ministry was exploring the idea of switching to paperless schools, replacing physical books with e-textbooks, and with pupils submitting assignments electronically.

Learning For The Future

High-speed internet is becoming a feature of well-equipped Bahraini classrooms. All government schools in the kingdom now have internet connections and at least one IT suite. The government is facilitating the development of an e-learning environment in local schools through the King Hamad Schools of the Future Project, a process that is in turn expected to help the country develop into a knowledge economy. The project, which began in 2003, initially involved five schools, 11,000 pupils and over 1000 teaching staff, and featured the development of a central portal for online teaching materials and training. By 2010 it had proved so successful that it was expanded to include every school in the country.

Used properly, e-learning can make it easier for teachers to interact with individual pupils, follow their progress and monitor their work. For pupils, it can also help foster creativity, as the medium is itself interactive. The system also allows parents to interact with the system, enabling them to monitor their child’s behaviour, attainment and attendance.

At A Distance

In 2010 the MoE issued instruction that distance learning courses taken with overseas institutions would no longer be recognised in Bahrain, due to concerns over quality and supervision. However, in many developed countries, distance-education degrees have proved popular with employers since they are seen as an alternative way of encouraging discipline, strict time management and the ability to undertake tasks unsupervised, making distance-education graduates highly employable. Although for the time being the MoE’s focus is likely to remain on improving the domestic education system, as Bahrain continues to integrate with the global economy local employers may come to see the value in such degrees, and, subject to proper scrutiny, the ban may eventually be lifted.

Bahrain is also moving to develop a series of “smart cities” based on the extra capacity being created by the National Broadband Network scheduled for completion by 2018. This will allow schools to be even more networked, fostering a learning environment suited to the 21st century.