The Business Year

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Edtech and remote learning evolved dramatically in the last one year, and the pandemic gave education institutions the ability to put their strategies to use and put in the extra effort to get it right.

Assem Al Haaj

President, Khawarizmi International College

We are fortunate to be part of a sector that focuses on the IT element in teaching. We mobilized our resources in a short period of time. The government and the authorities were working on this full-time; we received emails at two in the morning from the authority, which I have not seen anywhere else. As much as they were fast and dedicated in putting things to us, our response was also very fast. We knew we expected things before they happened, and we were taking our steps as well. We had to decide on the alternative options we had and train staff immediately in the two weeks that they gave us. It was a very clever move to bring forward the spring break, which made students stay at home and allowed us to prepare the next steps. We worked very hard, and our staff in all departments and our faculty were extremely cooperative and committed to their work. It was easy and quick to make the shift. We trained people, we uplifted their skills very quickly, and we got support from suppliers. Early in 2020, we moved our LMS system to Blackboard, we had an open LMS, and now we have LMS Collaborate, so we moved into a strong and user-friendly system. They were fast to provide us with the training we needed for our faculty, and that helped us significantly. We also provided training for students, which they were extremely excited about. They were pleased with the new system because they did not have to travel and were able to join sessions at their own comfort. Even if they do not attend, they can look at it afterward as they are all recorded. The IT team was fantastic and was providing support24/7. The students sent emails and also communicated via WhatsApp and phone calls, and the IT team was there to support them. That certainly gave us something to be proud of. Everybody had the full understanding of what is happening, and they were really dedicated in putting in the extra effort to get it right. It was an exciting time for us though it was a great deal of work. We have two branches, and that helped us unite the two branches together and help get the people the same level of support that they needed.

Geoffrey Alphonso

CEO, Alef Education

Alef Education was very well poised for this. We actually are an edtech company that works predominantly with the public and private sector though we also work in partnership with ADEC. We work with over 155 schools from grades 5 to 9, and these students use our platform for all of the core curriculum subjects digitally on a daily basis. We understood given the current pandemic that distance learning was coming soon and that schools would have to close. We had about a week’s notice to hand over about 15,000 devices to our learners to be able to learn from home. I think technology had a big part in terms of the success of remote learning; students were already mature users in terms of the programs, so whether they were learning from home or at school, the transformation that we made in terms of the approach that we had initially with the project really paid dividends. We spend a large amount of time also working with teachers because we do spend a lot of time with professional development tools working with teachers in terms of how to flip the classroom, use digital tools, and harness the power of data. All of those tools that we obviously could not do face-to-face all went online. The UAE was fairly progressive in terms of opening up the right collaboration tools for things like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and all other tools that are needed for people to work from a distance. The transition was indeed pretty smooth. We worked with ADEC to also look at the private sector, where we have about 40-plus schools using our program, and we looked at some low-income learners and opportunities to up 15,000 devices to do our part. Then, there was the other element of the workforce. We have a staff of 300 people and many of them specialize in educational technology, so they were pleased to work remotely, and they had all of the right tools. It was all about making sure that we were able to appropriately handle the perhaps 10% of people who had some challenges such as connectivity or device issues and were able to transform and switch to remote working and remote learning. It has been an extremely interesting time but we adapted quite well.

Kenneth Vedra

Director General, Kenneth Vedra

ENS has been fortunate in that several years ago, the board of directors commissioned a committee to look at e-learning in general to set up a number of different committees. We had some things in place relative to distance learning and looked at the training requirements for teachers and a number of different things. However, it did not take care of all the challenges we experienced when we immediately had to implement remote learning. When you have 12,500 students between the ages of four and 18, and all of a sudden they switch to a distance learning situation there is a great range of different things that we had to look at. We teach two different curriculums: common core based on the American system and the national curriculum approved by the UAE Ministry of Education. On top of that, we are an International Baccalaureate approved school, so we have to work with its frameworks and requirements to make sure we deliver. We took many things into consideration and looked at the remaining time that we had. We cancelled a week of the spring break for teachers to do planning and will give them back that vacation time. We took a few concepts that we worked with on our curriculum that were very important. We used the concept of backward design and looked at the end results that we wanted. We then came back to work on pieces related to our formative and summative assessments. Some of the things that we had to do were to create helpdesks for students, parents and teachers for technical issues as well as for some of the other pieces. As we looked at all the different elements and all the stakeholder we have involved, one of the key issues was putting our best foot forward to make sure everyone was looking at the elements as we moved forward. There were many challenges, and we are preparing for an advanced stakeholders survey of all of our parents and students to find out how they feel. We completed the Ministry of Education distance learning reviews, and our schools came out as advanced. We are extremely pleased with this as we spent a long time on it. However, there are things that we can learn because distance learning, technology, and education will not disappear, and we can use it to our advantage.



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