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Abdulla Al Karam Chairman of the Board of Directors & Director General, Knowledge & Human Development Authority (KHDA)

UAE - Health & Education

Abdulla Al Karam

Chairman of the Board of Directors & Director General, Knowledge & Human Development Authority (KHDA)

Bio

KHDA Director Abdulla Al Karam is also chairman of the Dubai Future Education Council, a member of the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) advisory board, and an Education Committee member of the Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing. Al Karam is a member of the university council at UAE University and serves on the board of trustees for Dubai Future Foundation and Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences. He is a board member of Dubai Sports Council and Dubai Cares and the Higher Committee for Protection of the Rights of People with Disabilities in Dubai. Previously, he held positions in various government sectors. Al Karam holds a PhD in computer engineering from the University of South Carolina.

“The changes that have taken place in education are what we expected to happen in the next five years.”
KHDA ensured that Dubai’s education sector emerged successfully after the pandemic and is now looking at future challenges to ensure its students receive high quality education.
What tools did you have at your disposal to formulate strategies and help you make the best decisions during the pandemic?

The decisions we made were not necessarily different; however, the mechanisms we employed were. One thing that helped was our use of data—generating the data, analyzing it and cross-referencing it. All these helped to prepare our community for distance learning. This has been an eye opener to us in terms of resilience. First, the leadership of Dubai. From the beginning, we knew that education would not stop, and we worked together with our education community and other government entities to ensure that learning continued. Secondly, the people of Dubai. They have shown resilience, strength and optimism, coming together to support each other when they most needed it. When schools reopened at the start of the 2020/21 academic year, parents were given a choice. They could choose to send their children to school, or to continue with distance learning. Every day I look at the number of children going to school versus those staying at home. We have 300,000 students, and if every day only one child moved from being online to face-to-face, then that boosts my confidence. It started small, though with time and growing confidence, the number increased naturally. Therefore, there was a natural and gradual return, and this did not put pressure on the system.

What is your opinion of the acceleration in terms of the disruption, and how important has technology become?

Technology is absolutely important and makes everything easier. We could connect with each other through technology, and that has been absolutely vital. We have to measure technology versus humanity, as we still need human connection, though it is not one versus the other. Technology enables humanity to flourish and survive, allowing us to connect. The changes that have taken place in education are what we expected to happen in the next five years; the pandemic accelerated all of this. Content could be delivered through technology, but what is taking place in education is in fact something deeper and related to the changes taking place in relationships between people in the education community. We are used to a model of exclusivity, with children who can only go to one school and learn from one teacher and one subject at time. The parent is the major stakeholder who pays the fees but is not involved and not in the classroom. With home learning, now one of the key elements is involved in the learning process: the parent. The parent now knows exactly what is happening. This means we can access the best teachers in the world, and that child can learn from different schools. COVID-19 has touched the relationship between teachers, schools, parents, and investors.

What are the most important things on your agenda, and what are the biggest challenges you plan to tackle?

We want to continue to give parents choice; our schools have proven how resilient they can be in terms of delivering high quality learning in challenging circumstances. My focus is now on the wellbeing aspect of education. We want to make sure we do not return to the old box for the same questions, as new questions require new answers. We thrive not on fixing old problems but through making life better so that we return stronger.

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