UAE schools increase edtech investments amid coronavirus

Educators require seamless tools, IT infrastructure to facilitate e-learning

  
Young boy reading school book in front of teacher. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Young boy reading school book in front of teacher. Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Getty Images/Gallo Images

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the way we look at technology’s relationship with education.

As fast spreading COVID-19 sent students home and shifted classes online, educational institutions in the UAE are considering to significantly raise investments in educational technology (edtech) and information technology (IT) infrastructure.

Abu Dhabi University recently invested 55 million UAE dirhams to ensure students and educators have seamless interaction during periods of school closure.

The money is being earmarked for tools likes Microsoft Teams and Workspace, securing a large bandwidth or huge cloud storage, as well as warding off potential hackers.

With e-learning increasingly becoming the new normal, tech vendors said they are expecting other education providers in the UAE to do the same and boost spending in IT.

Mena Migally, senior director for Middle East and North Africa at Riverbed, said: “There is no doubt that current challenges have highlighted just how important it is for schools to digitally transform, as recent changes will inexorably redefine the way these organisations operate in the future. This will drive a new wave of IT spending by schools and I believe we can expect this to occur as early as the start of the new school year, this September.”

Digital performance solutions provider Riverbed has seen a 25 percent spike in enquiries from schools who are looking to upgrade their IT hardware and software infrastructure to facilitate e-learning.

In early March, schools and universities across the UAE were ordered to close for a month as part of measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The government later issued an announcement extending the e-learning program until the end of the academic year in June.

Issues

One of the biggest issues faced by schools these days is the lack of human to human or face to face interaction between teachers and students. 

There are applications available for free at the moment, and they enable educators to do video conferences with students.  However, some of these tools come with certain limitations.

Kiara M, a teacher based in Dubai, has been using the popular video app Zoom to interact with students remotely. Her employer hasn’t spent a dirham, however, to use the tool because it offers first-time users a basic plan for free, There’s an issue, however.

After every 40 minutes into the video conference, Kiara’s class gets cut off and the teacher has to tell her students, “just hold on, I’ll reconnect after this.” 

“It’s always like that. It’s okay because it’s free,” she said in jest.

Schools like Kiara’s will definitely need to find a more efficient long-term solution to keep their sessions uninterrupted and ensure students stay engaged the whole time.

“Everything related to distance learning at present is based on apps that don’t actually enable the set-up of virtual classrooms. We have been closely engaging with some of the largest school in the UAE, especially over the last month, and all of them have identified this as their primary need,” Savio Tovar Dias, senior director of sales engineering at Avaya International, told Zawya.

Avaya is one of the tech vendors that have recently offered their tools for free to educational institutions amid the coronavirus outbreak. Its product, Avaya Spaces, enables schools to conduct virtual classrooms, and staff and students to set up virtual study groups, share presentations, videos, files and other content.

So far, more than 4,700 students and teachers in the UAE have utilized the complimentary application and the number is expected to increase further.

Migally said several other leading vendors are offering the same as part of full-feature trial offers, so at the moment, many schools have been able to provide distance learning with little to no upfront investment. 

However, once the offer expires and distance learning lasts longer than expected, education providers will most likely have no option but explore investment options in the e-learning space.

“As e-learning becomes the new norm, schools will look beyond just this initial urgent requirement, to understand how they can build resilient IT infrastructures that deliver flexibility, agility and performance in a secure and reliable manner,” he added.

(Writing by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)

Cleofe.Maceda@refinitiv.com

#UAE #EDUCATION #TECHNOLOGY #INVESTMENT #COVID19

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