The Gulf region is showing more interest in adopting new technologies in the education sector, a chief executive officer (CEO) of an Abu Dhabi-based  software company said.

“Education is always a pillar of any economy,” Saleh Al Hashemi, the CEO of Alef, a privately-owned firm that sells education software to schools told Zawya in an interview on Monday on the sidelines of Dubai’s GITEX technology exhibition.

“As we speak, we have interest from Egypt and we have interest from the GCC,” Al Hashemi said.

Investors could be inclined to access the education technology (EdTech) sector in the Middle East  - where many countries are facing budget constraints - because it can offer cheaper and more efficient methods for teaching students.

In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, where government budgets have been under pressure since mid-2014 as a result of the decline in revenue from oil exports, three countries - Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman - allocated over 20 percent of their budget expenditures last year to the education sector, according to a report by consultancy firm Alpen Capital.

In Egypt, meanwhile, the the Arab world’s most populous nation has faced hardship as it has removed subsidies and embarked on other economic reforms as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

Global investments in EdTech, according to Al Hashemi, are expected to grow to $252 billion by 2020, the same figure stated in a report by Bainbridge global consultancy issued this year. He said the size of the sector’s investments globally stood at $5.3 billion in 2016, a figure Zawya could not verify independently. 

“In the (GCC) region, we see a lot of growth in investments in artificial intelligence generally and also in education technology,” Al Hashemi said.

The GCC has been quick to adopt technology in several industries such as social media, mainly due to the region’s majority young and tech-savvy population. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among the top countries worldwide for mobile phone penetration, according to Reuters.

According to a senior consultant at management consultancy firm Accenture, businesses in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s largest economy, are ready to adopt technology in different sectors. Saudi Arabia had last year revealed an ambitious economic plan aimed at diversifying the kingdom’s income away from oil.

“Will artificial intelligence and digital technologies help the transformation in Saudi? “Yes indeed,” Gianmario Pisanu, managing director and management consulting lead in the Middle East and Turkey in Accenture management consultancy firm, told Zawya in a phone interview on Monday. 

Pisanu said that a recent survey done by Accenture showed that 43 percent of Saudi businesses understand the importance of adopting digital-based business models to contribute to the success of their businesses. He said the global percentage average was 31 percent.

Accenture’s survey, which was carried out in August and which polled 26,000 people from 26 countries online, also found that 68 percent of respondents from the UAE said that they have already adopted artificial intelligence (AI) at work.

According to Al Hashemi, a scarcity of teachers and/or lack of qualified teachers are among the main reasons that have led to many private schools buying educational multimedia software to make up for such shortages.

According to the Alpen Capital report, the shortage of teachers in the region is the second-highest in the world, due to a global scarcity of teachers and a lack of interest from GCC nationals to pursue a career in the profession.  The report also cited the high cost of construction as a key challenge facing the education sector in the GCC, because it is expensive to build new schools.

For Zawya’s special coverage of GITEX 2017, click here.

© ZAWYA 2017