News Column

IT enabling education

May 3, 2014 Staff

The Middle East's IT sector is one of the fastest growing in the world: great news for the region's students as education establishments have been embracing IT in order to improve the delivery of education. Although they still have their place, education is no longer confined to classrooms — IT now enables students to access content anywhere and at anytime. Now they can use a range of devices and platforms to access all the information they need, with tools, such as interactive white boards and video. Among other things, the sector has seen an increased adoption of mobile frameworks and cloud infrastructures to improve students' experiences and deliver quality services.

"Technology has completely revolutionised the way the students learn and continues to push the boundaries within the education industry. With the implementation of IT E-learning systems, institutions are moving away from the traditional in-class style of education, becoming increasingly virtual and more interactive," says Kamran Shaukat, Regional Solutions Manager UC&C, ME Enterprise Business Solutions, Huawei Middle East.

"Many schools and colleges are now looking at leaving the barriers of their physical classrooms behind, envisioning borderless classrooms that extend learning capabilities and remote access to those who cannot attend school. Additionally, the consumerisation of technology and devices is beginning to start affecting the education industry in the Middle East with students bringing their smartphones, tablets and notebooks to school to help them with their learning. Students want to learn through technology."

Indeed, the current generation of students has grown up surrounded by technology, and so to teach effectively it's necessary for educators to adopt the latest technology.

"Smart devices are a way of life in the Middle East. Connecting with the student community within their preferred mobile channels of communication is an absolute necessity in order to engage with them," explains Matthew Boice, vice president EMEAI, Ellucian.

Although the concept of 'smart learning' is still quite new to the region, more and more educational institutes have begun to embrace smart learning environments, as Ravinder Kumar, general manager, Business Solutions Devision, Sharp Middle East and Africa highlights.

"Education remains on the top of the agenda across the region and various government and private educational institutes are seeking the latest technologies and solutions to facilitate smarter learning environments for its students."

"The Middle East is leading in this area as they have the financial means to make it happen. According to the World Bank, public expenditure on education in the region stands at 18.6% of total government spending compared to the world average of 14.2%," adds Yassine Zaied, executive vice president Middle East and Emerging Markets, Nexthink.

But IT offers much more than simply supporting the delivery of education — it is able to help both the institutes and the students themselves in a myriad ways through everything from data analysis through to collaboration tools.

"E-learning is becoming increasingly popular in the Middle East as well as the use of technology for enabling better collaboration between teachers and students. In the next few years we'll see a stronger focus on developing customised curricula tailored to a student's learning abilities and level. As learners participate in online activities, they generate a lot of data that can be used to personalise the learning experience and improve student performance management. "Parents and teachers will [also] be able to track student progress with greater transparency of a student's performance through online assessment," says Maurice Johnson, Middle East regional director, NComputing.

"The wider adoption of IT in the classroom will also lead to more collaborative ways of involving students, teachers and parents in the learning process, from introducing game-like multimedia applications through to using collaborative portals for project management and mobile apps."

Take video, for example. Teaching institutions can create interactive and collaborative teaching and learning environments using video conferencing while reaching remotely-based subject matter experts.

"In terms of learning, students have greater access to shared resources across schools and universities. Polycom's video collaboration solutions can also be a perfect solution for children who can't attend lessons in person due to a permanent or temporary disability. It can also help children from remote schools get access to better education, by enabling one teacher to conduct lessons across multiple schools, without the need to waste time travelling between different locations," says Andrew Graley, education director EMEA, Polycom.

Then there's also IT management, as Zaied highlights.

"We see a focus on traditional investments to establish and monitor the IT infrastructure, and implementing a layer of service management with ITIL technologies. This is important in order to make sure students receive right quality of service and a good end-user experience when accessing educational materials," he explains.

"Cloud is another important capability," adds Boice. "It can support collaboration for major research projects, and enable neighbouring Arab universities to share high quality resources to benefit students. Advances in cloud capabilities and software make it possible for institutions to choose which solutions they wish to run from campus, and when to use private or public cloud services to complement their campus strategies."

Of course the education sector has its own specific challenges to deal with, as Graley highlights, however vendors work closely with clients to overcome issues.

"When it comes to video conferencing or collaboration, some of the basic challenges that education institutes face are perceived high-cost of implementation, concerns on the interoperability of new video solutions with the existing infrastructure and fear of resistance from staff in embracing new technologies.

"Education institutes perceive video conferencing as being quite complicated. Polycom actively works through its distributors and partners to educate schools on the various benefits of adopting video collaboration in their campuses and ease-of-use its solutions provides to them. Additionally, our qualified partners work closely with individual schools to tailor solutions based on their specific needs," he explains.

"Challenges can vary depending on various factors such as its geography, size of operations, current IT infrastructure, area of specialisations, etc. However, some of the common challenges that schools face when embracing a smart learning environment are initial cost of adoption, training staff members and need for 24/7 technical support," continues Kumar.

"When schools embrace new technologies it is likely that they would require upgrading to their network and technology infrastructure. Additionally, teachers will require training on the new products and technologies to enable them to utilise these more effectively. In addition, each school, depending on its size, would require dedicated IT support staff to assist them for maintenance and troubleshooting. We work individually with each educational institute to tailor our solutions package to fit their specific needs and have a dedicated support team that help schools with its training and troubleshooting needs."

Some institutions are put off my perceived costs, but as Shaukat notes, you don't have to have an all or nothing approach to going 'smart'.

"The important thing for education institutions is to understand that it does not take a significant investment to take the first step toward becoming a connected classroom. Many establishments are simply incorporating standard video conferencing solutions as a first step rather than deploying a full smart classroom system.

"The great thing about the smart classroom concept is that it is scalable. Schools and colleges can start small and add more interactivity and more complex digital technology as and when it is required," he explains.

There are many great examples of how the region's educational institutes have embraced IT in order to improve the learning experience. Here are just a few examples…


   • Ma'arif for Education and Training is using NComputing's vSpace Platform to centralise IT management so that it can deliver remote support to multiple schools across Saudi Arabia. From Jebel Ali Primary school and Ras Al Khaimah Academy in the UAE to Al Farabi Dental College in Saudi Arabia as well as vast numbers of training centres, including the Royal Saudi Army and Egypt Army, NComputing's solutions have enabled more interactive teaching by integrating multimedia applications and visuals into the classes and running interactive lessons on thin client devices.


   • "The Supreme Education Council of Qatar has provided over 100,000 tablets to students instead of textbooks. Students connect to the eLearning platform to access rich educational media that complements what is being done in schools and interactive educational materials including courses, an electronic library and videos, from any place," says Yassine Zaied, executive vice president Middle East and Emerging Markets, Nexthink.


   • The American University of Kuwait (AUK) was able to increase student and staff productivity, reduce travel costs and increase its classroom capacity by implementing the Polycom RealPresence Platform at its campus.


   • Huawei deployed a cloud VDI at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) campus in Abu Dhabi in 2012, which enhanced both students and teacher's access to education resources. The ICT infrastructure reduced the costs of software and hardware maintenance as well as downtime as well and improve efficiency of communication and energy consumption.


   • UAE University (UAEU) built a system utilising Ellucian Mobile and Banner Student features in conjunction with the university's existing infrastructure. The implementation provided several important apps out of the box while allowing the institution to add in-house, custom-built features. Students are kept up to date with their class schedule, grades, attendance and other campus related information. More than 5,000 users installed the apps within the first few days and more than half of the students access their grades or class schedule using the mobile app compared to the number of students using the traditional services. Currently, the app receives almost one million views per month.

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Source: (United Arab Emirates)