Education industry banks on smart schools

Cloud-based technology, intelligent learning systems being integrated seamlessly into learning experience

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Male teacher giving a lecture from desktop PC during a class at computer lab.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Male teacher giving a lecture from desktop PC during a class at computer lab.

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The education industry is passing through a transition stage to integrate the latest technology and intelligent learning into a new smart school concept across the region, an industry veteran said.

Raza Khan, chief executive officer of Al Najah Education, said the sector was also impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and now offers huge investment opportunities in smart schools to ensure the safety of students without compromising on quality.

"We are seeing the rise of the 'smart school', where cloud-based technology and intelligent learning systems are integrated seamlessly into the learning experience," Khan told Khaleej Times in an interview on Saturday.

Referring to Horizon English School, he said the institution is a pioneer of technology-based learning for young children, preparing them from the very start for a high-tech future.

Al Najah Education is one of the leading education providers in the region. It is a private equity investment company and operates three schools in Dubai including Horizon International School.

Khan said technology has certainly come to the forefront in the Covid era. "I can see edtech playing a major role going forward. There are a lot of discussions at the moment about home-schooling - but actually the bigger story is how technology and AI can change the way we think, teach and learn," he said.

"I'm looking at new systems that allow schools to revolutionise communications and assessment and create a 24/7 learning experience," he said, adding that edutainment will be another growth area - advanced educational games; apps to support children's cognitive and thinking skills; and so on.

Khan said the education sector requires more investments to cope up with latest trends in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

"I think education is a great investment opportunity right now. The business logic of investing into high-quality schools and innovative tech has never been stronger," he said.

Education sector to grow

Khan was of the opinion that education is a defensive sector that will continue to grow in volatile market conditions.

"And new capital can be invested positively in three ways - upgrading schools' infrastructure, developing new schools with more advanced learning technologies, and creating new edtech applications," he said.

Al Najah Education also has a mandate to invest in the education sector across Mena and Southeast Asia, with Horizon Education Asia Limited being a subsidiary through which all Southeast Asian investments are made. It acquired a significant stake in Malaysia-based Regent International Schools in June last year.

Lesson from Covid-19 crisis

Khan said Al Najah Education wisely handled the coronavirus outbreak in line with the government policy and guidelines issued by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority to ensure the safety of students and staff.

"Al Najah is a market leader with schools across Mena and Asia, and so we quickly redefined and modernised our whole approach. We invested in 'smart classrooms' that can easily switch from in-school to distance learning, along with state-of-the-art safety systems," he said.

He said Horizon International School in Dubai was the very first to help parents financially during the crisis while Horizon English School was the first to develop a specialised safety regime to keep the youngest learners safe.

"As a result, our schools were able safely to open every day for all the children once the new term started. And we grew our numbers despite everything - we are even opening new classes in January," he said.

In reply to a question how schools will sustain revenue for e-learning model as parents are reluctant to pay full tuition fee for the concept, he said home-schooling isn't really an option in the long term for most families in the UAE.

"Parents have to work, and children learn and develop much faster and more effectively in a school environment. The business fundamentals haven't changed - if you can offer families excellent quality and great value for money, your schools will maintain and grow their revenues, as we have seen at Al Najah," he said.

"What's new is the increased emphasis on safety, and the intelligent use of technology to pivot seamlessly from home to school-based learning," Khan concluded.

- muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com

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