The Digital Education Show Middle East has been taking place at the Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre this week. At the heart of the numerous exhibitors marketing their products and services is a conference program that boasts speakers such as Sugata Mitra and Ron Packard. Dr. Sugata is a 2013 TED Prize winner and professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK) well known for his educational research on the “Hole in the Wall” experiment promoting the notion of self-instruction and peer-peer knowledge building. Ron Packard is the CEO and Founder of K12 Inc., one of the largest education companies in the world with $1 billion revenue, who also shared his thoughts on the significance of technology in education.
As the event progressed and various experts, educationalists, and ed-tech leaders spoke about the trends and needs of ed-tech, it became obvious that the field is evolving from a product-based focus to a personalized learning focus. This might seem obvious to many educators, but was a shift for many educational decision makers from the region who talked about the costly mistakes of attending to infrastructure and hardware rather than ensuring responsive educational tools and content that directly respond to the professional and pedagogical needs of teachers and students.
At our overcrowded round table this week, we talked through the different opportunities for ed-tech to support the personalization of instruction using technology. For practical reasons we focused on mobile learning and learning analytics as illustrated in the figure below.
After insightful comments and questions from the classroom teachers, school leaders, developers, and government officials at the table, there were strong common messages that surfaced:
- The current integration of technology in the classroom lacks a holistic approach
- Teachers are struggling with the alignment of assessments given current instructional pathways facilitated by technology
- Teachers are struggling with balancing the personalization of instruction and learning with competing demands from stakeholders
- Software developers need to work more directly with educators to ensure their products are effective as measured by increased student engagement and learning
- The disparity between English and Arabic Ed-tech is widening because of the lack of high quality Arabic language ed-tech content for the teachers and students in the Middle East
- Parental engagement and support is critical to success because of the demands on the students to engage individually with the learning tools
In all of the discussions at the show, the idea of integrating technology into teaching and learning had less to do with the individual tools and more to do with the process of how the instruction would change to capitalize on those tools. It reflected the needs of students who are simply not excited about technology because it is not special to them because they are digital natives. As Sir Ken Robinson states:
I wasn’t very excited about electricity …. and our kids aren’t really that excited about a lot of the technology that excite adults, they simply take them for granted.
So as we move into this next generation of teaching and learning, with almost 70% of students in the region graduating feeling unprepared and over 60% of employers in the region telling us the students are not prepared for the workforce, how can we support the needs of the Middle East to ensure that Ed-tech supports today’s youth?