Looking to boost information and communications technology (ICT) usage across the board, but particularly in education, Dubai has committed to embracing ICT in all facets of the teaching and learning process.
In the most recent Global Information Technology Report conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Dubai and the rest of the UAE was ranked 30th out of the 142 countries assessed. The study of the international ICT sector, released in early April, gave high marks to the government’s prioritisation of technology and its importance to the state’s vision, ranking the UAE 11th and 7th in these two categories.
However, the report did serve to underscore the findings of a recent survey of the emirate’s schools, which found that more needed to be done to improve internet access and to make better use of ICT in the classroom.
That survey, conducted by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB), a unit of the emirate’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), found that many students did not have sufficient access to technology, though ICT was being used more effectively than in the past.
“Although teachers now use ICT more regularly, we noticed that many pupils still have insufficient access to ICT to support their education across all subjects,” the survey noted. “A significant majority of pupils use ICT regularly in an ICT suite or at home, rather than as routine across subjects. This does little to help their progress and independence in learning.”
The survey also stated that while access to ICT resources has improved, and its applications have become an important part of teacher training, more needed to be done to boost the use of new technology in Dubai’s education system, a necessity understood by both teachers and students.
However, it appears that the problems highlighted in the DSIB survey may be on their way to being solved. In mid-April, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice-president and Prime Minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, announced a new programme that aims to radically overhaul the nation’s education system through the application of ICT in almost every aspect of the learning process.
Under the $270m scheme, dubbed the Initiative for Smart Learning, every student in Dubai and across the UAE will be provided with a tablet PC and 4G internet access. Teachers will also be given specialised training and class sizes will be reduced.
By better utilising ICT through the e-learning initiative, Sheikh Mohammad said stronger foundations would be laid for the long term.
“It is the principle of investing in the human factor and its development, as it represents the most valuable wealth the nation owns, and constitutes both the objective and the means of development,” he said. “The project will prepare future generations to face the new challenges of the new world more confidently.”
As an initial step, a pilot project, which will see 18 schools catering to students from grades six to nine, will start in September, the beginning of the new school year. Full coverage is set to be achieved in five years.
It will be some time before the Dubai-led ICT educational initiative begins having a measurable impact on the nation’s schools, however, over time the emirate’s national human resources pool is likely to be well prepared for the workforce and up to date on the latest technology and ICT services.