How digital is driving smart education in MEA

Online learning was thrust to center stage during the pandemic. Millions of people worldwide were stuck at home and education establishments used the Internet to keep classes going and students busy. Now that many schools are open, where does it leave smart education?

While COVID-19 boosted online learning, even before the pandemic there were good levels of adoption in education technology, also known as edtech. 2020 saw investment in edtech companies skyrocket, and as of early November 2021, there are 32 edtech unicorns.

However, the pandemic proved that the online learning model can work at scale and demonstrated that we have a lot of the technologies now in place to enable it. So, I think it is important to look at smart education in terms of possibilities – what is the situation now, and where might we be able to take it?

The MEA perspective

The Middle East and Africa is fast becoming one of the most progressive places in the world for education. Historically, the MENA region, made up of 21 countries with a combined population of over 400 million, more than 60% of which are under the age of 24, has been known as an exporter of students. Today, that situation is changing. With new world-class universities attracting international students worldwide, the Middle East is one of the fastest-growing regions for education today.

Smart education in general is on the rise throughout MEA. According to research, the Middle East and Africa education technology and smart classroom market is forecast to grow to US$7.1 billion by 2027, as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate the shift to digital education.

Video and virtual reality

The past year and a half saw a massive increase in the use of video calling apps like Zoom, growth that took place in the workplace of course, but also in education. Teachers and students who had never previously used videoconferencing immediately had to sign up, get practicing and get used to it, as it became essential for online learning.

Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) tools seem ideally suited to smart education, too. They have already made their presence felt in the gaming sector, bringing down the cost of headsets and related equipment. Moving forward, VR and AR present the possibility of creating highly immersive lessons that are fun and engaging. They could also drive increased participation in classes by students from a digitally-native generation.

Recent news has also revealed a possible future for smart education in the metaverse. Today’s generation of school students is entirely comfortable with virtual worlds, thanks to MMORPGs like Minecraft and Roblox, so an immersive, metaverse-based classroom wouldn’t be much of a leap for them.

AI and analytics

Artificial intelligence (AI) could also have a big role to play. AI can enable much more personalized learning experiences or be used to facilitate one-to-one tutoring with the use of Intelligent Tutoring Systems. Chatbots could be used more widely in education, too: during the pandemic, some education institutions integrated chatbots into their systems to help with the automation of tasks, such as the resolution of student queries. I think it’s likely that this trend will grow as we move forward.

Learning analytics can be used to empower educators by tracking learning processes to make better-informed, data-driven decisions. For example, it can help in areas such as behavior and performance prediction, whereby educators can more accurately forecast the performance of students based on past performance.

Gamification could grow in popularity, too. Learning through play has been a popular educational concept for many years, but digital technologies could take it to the next level. As mentioned, today’s Gen Z end users are all habitual gamers in daily life, so gamification of the classroom could become a useful instructional tool, helping make complex subject matter more exciting and interactive experiences.

All the pieces are in place

Smart education tools have the potential to scale classes to larger numbers and to provide more individualized, personalized learning. They offer immersive learning and easier access to more resources for students. Smart education can increase collaboration between students and, through gamification, make learning more fun, too. And perhaps most significantly, edtech and smart education can better prepare students for the world of work, where so many jobs are now powered by digital technologies.

One research report found that 86% of educators now say that technology is at the core of learning. I expect that number to keep on growing as digital transformation continues to impact a once very traditional sector.

If you would like to talk about smart education, the digital tools that enable it, or anything else about digital transformation in MEA, please contact me on:

Sahem Azzam
Sahem Azzam

Sahem Azzam is Senior Vice President, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, leading the Orange Business team operating across the region comprising 60+ countries from the regional headquarters and Innovation Hub in Dubai, supported by offices in Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf, South Africa and Turkey. He has a special interest and expertise in infrastructure services, IoT, Big Data, Smart Cities, Blockchain and IT service management.