Will UAE schools use Skype for lectures?

Samer Abu Ltaif, Regional General Manager, Microsoft Gulf

As the world around us has changed dramatically over the past few decades, the way we impart and absorb knowledge in schools – through classroom study – has unfortunately remained stubbornly the same since the world’s first university was founded in 700 BC or so.

And this is among the biggest ironies of our time: the classroom, which is supposed to be the one of the pillars of innovation, has not seen any itself.

Whether it’s a state-of-the-art school in a developed country or one in the poorest of villages in an emerging country, the method of classroom teaching is the same – the teacher tries to pass on what s/he knows to a bunch of students gathered in a room. The students are then tested for their knowledge through exams at later stage.

Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Wordwide Education, Microsoft Corporation

Experts have pointed out many flaws that are inherent in such a system – the focus remains on theoretical learning, exams are geared at rewarding students who can memorise the most instead of celebrating the ‘understanding’ part of learning, and there remains a huge gap between the quality of graduates that schools churn out and that which are required by employers.

The system also fails to excite students, who then tend to see education as a chore, making the process mundane and devoid of the energy required to stimulate new thinking.

There are many organisations big and small in the world that are working to change that. Digitising the classroom and integrating technology with learning are among the most important programmes that these organisations are undertaking in order to make education a practical and more exciting endeavour for students.

The understanding is now largely focused at collaboration between the various stakeholders to achieve this goal, which will eventually result in better graduates, better workforce and, eventually, higher economic growth.

What the region can learn from UAE

Within that larger global goal, the UAE is a regional leader in helping to revolutionalise learning. A majority (56 per cent) of respondents to a recent survey on education and innovation voted the UAE as the most creative country in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena), followed by Qatar (15 per cent), Saudi Arabia (11 per cent) and Egypt (8 per cent).

Hundreds of teachers as well as education and school leaders will descend upon Dubai next week in an unprecedented push to share their knowledge about how to bring about innovation in the classroom.

Dubai will host the Microsoft in Education Global Forum, which will focus on innovative practices using technologies that can help drive rich learning experiences and highlight the achievements of teachers and schools from around the Middle East and Africa, as well as India, who are successfully using technology to engage their students and prepare them for the future.

The event will host leading ‘showcase schools’ from 35 countries, in addition to 15 of the top global and regional education technology partners.

“The Global Forum in Dubai is an opportunity for education professionals to discuss how technology can address key challenges in education for the 21st century. The forum will explore the transformation of education, considering the roles of industry trends such as mobility, cloud, access and learning analytics in solving key challenges,” said Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft, who will deliver the opening keynote.

“There has been a rise in youth unemployment globally and to tackle that problem head-on, Microsoft programs like YouthSpark work with governments and NGOs globally to empower young people to do more and achieve more by expanding their access to Computer Science education,” he said.

Skype in the classroom

‘Skype in the classroom’ is one of Microsoft’s programmes that are bringing about change in an otherwise static classroom setting. According to the firm, its video-chat app Skype is inspiring literacy by making learning more exciting for children.

The Skype learning comprises projects such as virtually inviting an author into the classroom and interacting with students anywhere in the world, overcoming geographic limitations to participate in a featured literacy activity, creating e-books to share with other classrooms, and running through hundreds of literacy lessons that can be shared across the world with the click of a mouse.

“Microsoft continues to advocate for the integration of technology into the education system and has partnered with the UAE and other governments in the Middle East and Africa region to equip schools, teachers and students with smart learning solutions such as Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 8 devices equipped with education apps,” said Samer Abu Ltaif, Regional General Manager, Microsoft Gulf.

“The Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Dubai provides a platform for sharing ideas on how to make technology accessible for all students and teachers in the region. It is no doubt that technology has transformed learning experiences forever, and at Microsoft, we remain committed to helping educators leverage technology to equip students with the skills they need to prepare learners for work and life,” he added.

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