As part of its ambitious project to further modernise the country, the Government of the United Arab Emirates has launched a state-of-the-art, smart-learning programme. It is one of a number of initiatives taking place under the umbrella of “Vision 2021,” which in turn complements the economic focal point of Dubai Expo 2020. This world trade fair event will take place in Dubai which, along with Abu Dhabi, is the best known internationally of the seven Emirates comprising the country. In preparing for the Expo, the Dubai Government aims to turn the already ultra-modern metropolis into a “smart city.”
Many of the initial smart-city projects, such as bringing administrative functions to mobile web interfaces, permitting, for example, payments of traffic fines, have already been well publicized. But one of the most significant long-term projects, the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme, is lesser known. Its goal is to digitalise all public school learning via mobile technologies (4G and WiFi) in all seven Emirates.
The UAE has a population of 5.6 million people, 84% of whom are expatriates – predominately from South Asia, but also from other Arab countries and the rest of the world. The Kindergarten to 12 public school system has 200,000 students, more than 60% of whom are from the 16% indigenous Emirati population, and 7,000 teachers. The system has long been criticized for lagging the private school sector, but has been the object of modernization efforts during the past decade.
Last year saw a big step forward when the Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE, launched the Smart Learning Programme. It was designed and implemented over a period of just six months, and now all students are connected via WiFi or 4G. Equally important, all educational content has been digitally formatted while all students and teachers were provided with tablet devices allowing work both in the classroom and at home. Ongoing teacher training ensures the new tools are being fully utilized and helping in effective learning.
The technology part of the project was implemented around six main categories:
The government team acted as project managers, selecting suppliers for each of the areas and integrating them into a single approach. HP was chosen as technology leader, coordinating all other technology vendors with the key ones being Samsung and HP, which provided devices, Etisalat the telecom connectivity, and Siveco and ITWorkx the content management.
Between March and September 2013 the project was fully implemented. Throughout 2014 we will have a chance to judge how effective it is in terms of its goal of helping kids to learn in a more enjoyable and effective way, consistent with their out-of-class digital lives.