As part of the emirate’s wider digitalisation drive, Abu Dhabi is investing in artificial intelligence (AI) in education and expanding the use of technology in schools. AI has the potential to transform the emirate’s economy; a 2018 report by PwC estimated that the technology could contribute $320bn to the MENA region’s GDP by 2030. The report forecast that AI will have the most significant impact in the UAE, accounting for 14% of the country’s GDP.
AI focuses on mimicking human thinking and creating automatic systems that can be improved through experience and data collection. AI and machine learning can be used in a variety of ways, including the development of remote learning systems and virtual education platforms.
Artificial intelligence is predicted to account for 14% of the UAE’s GDP by 2030 The UAE has long been at the forefront of AI technology, appointing the world’s first minister of state for AI in 2017. That same year the country launched the UAE Strategy for AI, which identifies nine key sectors that the technology could be used to enhance – one of which is education. In line with these developments, Abu Dhabi has made strategic investments in the technology to solidify its place as a major player in the field of AI, which the education sector has benefitted from. Indeed, students are increasingly learning to apply AI and other technologies such as autonomous robotics as Abu Dhabi shifts towards a knowledge-based economy where such skills are in high demand.
Abu Dhabi start-up Alef Education was founded in 2015 with the aim of using technology to disrupt traditional methods of teaching and learning. Its digital network uses AI to tailor the curriculum to individual pupils’ needs using videos, animation, interactive calendars and customisable avatars for students. The platform was first rolled out in 2016 at Alef’s micro-school. The following year it was introduced to 1000 students at a public school in Abu Dhabi. As of 2019 the system was used at 57 public schools and two private schools in the UAE, as well as a number of private schools in the US.
In February 2020 Alef signed an agreement with Taiwanese multinational computer company Acer to provide 45,000 devices for more than 100 government schools. This came as demand for digital learning systems increased amid the Covid-19 crisis, which caused education establishments around the world to close and shift to virtual platforms.
The emirate is also expanding the role of AI in higher education. In October 2019 the world’s first university of AI studies opened in Abu Dhabi. Mohamed bin Zayed University of AI, located in Masdar City, is scheduled to begin classes in September 2020. It will offer graduate-level, researchbased degree programmes covering AI topics such as machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing. Full scholarships, monthly stipends, health insurance and accommodation are being offered to all students. The university aims to attract students from around the world and develop a workforce skilled in AI in order to advance the emirate’s development goals.
While the technology continues to develop at an impressive rate in Abu Dhabi, broader debates continue about the uses of AI. Moving forward, it will be important for the emirate to prioritise concerns regarding privacy and the effects of increased screen time, particularly on children. As AI is rolled out further across the emirate, high-speed internet access will also be needed to support the technology. Therefore, it will be vital that adequate IT infrastructure is available in all homes, especially in rural areas.