Many MENA countries are struggling on different fronts: politically, economically and socially.
However, education remains one of the fundamental challenges facing upcoming generations in the region.
Surging conflict in the region is preventing more than 13 million children from going to school, a UNICEF report revealed late last year.
In addition, the level of education available across Middle Eastern countries has been the center of many debates, which revolve around traditional, outdated curricula and old methods of teaching and learning, among others.
Many educational institutions have attempted to adopt technological solutions to revamp a stagnant system, by advancing their teaching methods and growing students’ skills and knowledge.
Maysa Jalbout, CEO of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, has co-authored a Brookings paper discussing the topic, explaining how technology can prepare this generation’s youth to engage with an ever-changing world.
The paper, titled Will Technology Disruption Widen or Close The Skill Gap In The Middle East And North Africa?, highlights opportunities presented by technology to the Arab world, so the region can advance in making educational advancements.
In order for regional countries to prepare youth for the changing nature of work, “they must concentrate their efforts and invest their resources in not only improving learning outcomes to match international levels of numeracy and literacy, but also to prepare their students to become lifelong learners who are hungry to learn and continuously evolving and developing the skills they need to succeed in life,” Jalbout says.
She highlights five major trends in terms of how technology has impacted the scene:
- Longer life expectancies require young people to plan for more working years and, hence, become lifelong learners, generalists or trans-disciplinarians.
- Automation is bringing an end to traditional jobs. There is a need to develop opportunities for highly skilled workers and to enhance formal skills such as communication and problem-solving.
- Explosion of the data analytics field is increasing the demand for higher-order analytical skills and advanced digital literacy, in addition to strengths in specific fields, such as science, technology, engineering and computer programming.
- New forms of media are changing the nature of learning as well as our understanding of how children learn. For instance, gaming, animation and other types of virtual networks are demanding a new form of literacy and are promoting new models for collaboration and communication.
- As the nature of work is changing, so also are the structures of organisations, which are shifting toward being interconnected. They are becoming more diverse, not only in their make-up but also in their operations, resulting in more flexibility and opportunity. This, in turn, means that workers are expected to become more adaptable to changing environments, have an awareness of various cultures and know how to function and communicate in virtual environments.
Not a silver bullet
Bringing technological advancements into the classroom and introducing progressive forms of teaching and learning has been faced with some criticism.
Numerous scholars are continuously debating the topic and have pointed out the failures of newly introduced, technology-backed methods of teaching and learning.
On the topic, Jalbout admits, “Investment in education technology is not a silver bullet. Singular activities will not succeed as one-time efforts and cannot replace the necessity of investing in the pillars of a good-quality education, including qualified teachers and more equitable access.”
“However, technologies that open access to more students, promote more interactive learning opportunities, enable students to be more innovative and independent should be encouraged,” she adds.