John Alexander Ing, the Managing Director and Head Teacher at Express English Language Training Center, speaks about the challenges education has faced due to the pandemic
How has the pandemic affected the education sector in the region?
The pandemic has presented the education sector with unprecedented challenges and has questioned some of the main tenets of our profession. Institutions have been forced to adapt to a new educational landscape with fresh obstacles and opportunities. First and foremost, the closure of face-to-face classes has expedited the inevitable increase in online learning.
Although the speed of change has been painful for many, we have to recognise the opportunities and advancements this change has brought. Students, old and young alike, are now comfortable using video conferencing software and this has dramatically expanded the market for online courses and live tutorials.
This gap is being filled by a multitude of online tutoring websites and apps which are springing up to meet the demand. UAE companies are well-placed to benefit from these opportunities due to their access to a highly-skilled workforce and reputation for technological innovation.
What sort of opportunities do you see in the regional education sector?
As a training institute in Dubai, we have had to adapt our existing tools and materials to make them suitable for online learning and have discovered that adapting classroom tools originally designed for face-to-face learning has allowed us to meet these challenges.
For example, interactive whiteboard software, originally designed to augment classroom learning, is a very versatile tool for video-conference lessons. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are another example of pre-covid tools which have seen increased prominence in the current environment. The ability of teachers to track student’s attendance and progress, as well as to organise and deliver online course materials is invaluable for courses where the student and teacher may never meet in person.
The increase in popularity of these tools will inevitably bring more funding, and this will lead to the development of platforms and tools tailored to the needs of the education sector and with increased interactivity and versatility. Moving forward, the ability to adapt existing tools, embrace emerging technologies, and develop online teaching methods will allow the UAE education sector to determine best practices for online classrooms.
Covid 19 has expedited the globalisation of education and a key challenge for UAE institutes will be trying to compete with online courses offered by institutes based in countries where the overheads and operating costs are significantly lower.
However, quality is key in education and the region’s early adoption of the latest classroom technology means that the infrastructure is already in place for institutions to provide the highest quality online learning experiences. This could allow the UAE to become a regional market leader in the provision of e-learning technology and services.
What does the future of the regional education sector look like?
Looking ahead to a post-covid world, the advancements in e-learning technology and a wider variety of study options will inevitably benefit the learner. Teachers will have the option of teaching high-quality online lessons or augmenting their face-to-face classrooms with the new technology.
Many practitioners, however, would argue for the benefits of building real-life human interaction through in-person communicative teaching whilst adopting the new technology to augment classroom learning. Many would agree that online teaching has not yet developed to the point where group work and inter-student communication is as seamless and enjoyable as that of classroom learning.
This will be one of the key challenges for E-learning software developers attempting to bridge the digital divide. As a world leader in the adoption of e-learning technology, the UAE has the chance to fill the gaps created in the market and cement its reputation as a quality provider of education in the region.