In the 2015/16 academic year children at 208 schools across the UAE will find tablets and smart devices playing a much larger part in their lessons, as they become the latest beneficiaries of a technology campaign being led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Mohammed bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme (MBRSLP) was initiated in 2012 and introduced to 123 schools in 2013/14, with a total of 146 schools participating in 2014/15. In a visit to the Ministry of Education in August 2015, Sheikh Mohammed said the use of technology would help to create a learning environment that would be conducive to innovation and creativity, in keeping with the goals of the UAE’s Vision 2021. “It is imperative to build a modern educational system to keep pace with developments in making the transition to ‘smart government’ and open the doors of opportunity for our students to meet their needs and requirements and achieve a high level output in the educational process,” he said.
There are 79 public schools in Dubai, including 11 kindergartens. Teaching is mostly in Arabic, and 84% of the pupils are Emirati nationals. In the first phase of the MBRSLP, 11,000 students across the country were able to work in “smart classrooms”. In its second year 25,000 students from grade seven and eight were introduced to the scheme, and there was a pilot phase for grade-nine students. The aim is to include all public school pupils in all grades in the scheme by 2019, by which time they will each have access to a tablet and a 4G network. The federal Telecommunications Regulatory Authority’s ICT Fund is paying for the programme, which local media report is costing Dh253m ($68.9m). In 2015/16 a total of 34,513 students were participating in the programme, with 5295 laptops for teachers in 1735 classrooms equipped with a wide range of devices including tablets, computer suites, interactive whiteboards and digital devices designed to help pupils with special educational needs.
In 2014 the MBRSLP achieved recognition at the UN World Summit on the Information Society by winning an award for capacity building. The accolade recognised the way in which smart technology was being used in classrooms across the UAE to enable children to access online teaching and learning resources, and it commended the way in which the infrastructure had been created to enable schools to communicate better and use smart techniques in teacher training, curriculum design and management of learning resources. The scheme was also praised for encouraging children to innovate and acquire online skills that would enable them to become lifelong learners.
The MBRSLP is helping public schools to meet objectives set in the government’s Vision 2021, which sees education playing a vital role in shaping the lives, abilities and attitudes of a new generation of Emiratis. The scheme also encourages creative use of technology by teachers. In March 2015 the MBRSLP Innovation Council was formed, and a group of teachers was appointed to it and tasked with coming up with new ideas to help develop the programme in the light of their classroom experience in using smart technology. The Innovation Council will also visit schools to exchange ideas, offer advice and hear feedback from students and teachers.
“Since the programme was initiated in 2012, we have encouraged innovation in education to build a new generation of knowledge-seeking and innovation-oriented students away from the traditional routes of learning,” Mohammed Gheyath, director-general of MBRSLP, told OBG. “We seek to encourage creative minds that produce new ideas and contribute to a true knowledge economy in the UAE.” Among the numerous initiatives that were launched in 2015 was a “smart radio” service deployed across selected schools, which enables students to design, produce and webcast their own programmes.