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Covid-19 Changing UAE Education for the Better

by Eddie Rayner

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, chairman of the board of directors and director-general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), says the Covid-19 pandemic has been positive for the education sector: “Education has definitely changed for the better. Technology had already transformed almost all sectors of the economy – manufacturing, transport, health, but not education. It took Covid-19 to change the structure of education.”

He went on to explain that the pandemic has changed people’s expectations of education and of each other: “Parents and teachers are working together, much more closely. Parents are getting a close-up look at what and how their children learn. Parents now expect to have a choice in how their children learn.”

He said students have also become more in charge of their learning and pupils’ well-being has taken centre stage: “Parents and students will be looking for customised learning experiences that benefit their children’s specific strengths, and schools will be looking for a more diversified ‘customer base. Physical schools will become more important than ever – as centres of the community, as places where students and teachers go to build friendships and improve their wellbeing.

“This pandemic has also shown us where a school’s strength really lies, which is relationships and wellbeing. When all learning was online, students wanted to go back to school because they missed their friends. Teachers missed their colleagues. Parents missed catching up at the school gates in the morning. When we are cut off from each other, our mental and emotional health declines.

“Schools have a huge part to play in improving the wellbeing of individuals, and the whole community. When online learning can meet students’ academic needs, it’ll be the physical schools that meet the holistic needs of students that will really stand apart.”

Government entities across the UAE also highlighted resilience in the face of the pandemic. Stan Brackman, director for strategic planning and excellence at Sharjah Private Education Authority, said: “We have a new academy that not only supports teachers, which is the primary function of the academy, but also supports parents because as we’ve seen with Covid-19, it has really impacted them dramatically.

“Therefore, we now have parents who are more involved in the education process than before. So, we have developed the Sharjah Education Academy to help support the transition from the system that was in place before Covid-19 to a system that we are moving in towards now.”

Other speakers at the conference said the K-12 sector will come out of the pandemic as strong as ever, despite short-term challenges.

Ashwin Assomull, head of L.E.K. Consulting’s Global Education Practice, said:
“K-12 is one of the most essential and defensible sub-segments within education and is not expected to be adversely impacted by digital disruption in the long run. Our recent survey of Dubai parents indicated that 90% of parents in the emirate are satisfied with remote learning delivery. However, traditional schools will continue to remain the mode of choice for parents, with blended learning becoming the new normal in a post-pandemic world.”