A multi-specialised panel discussed education, its continuing relevance, and emerging delivery models during a discussion at the 10th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), organized by the WIEF Foundation and Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Dubai.
Chaired by Tan Sri Dato Dr. Wan Mohd. Zahid Mohd. Noordin, Chairman of the WIEF Education Trust, the panel debated how education delivered using technology has a number of benefits in terms of ease of delivery and widespread availability, but yet could lose the traditional interpersonal connection due to this electronic delivery.
The panel brought together information and experiences from Bronwen McConkey, Chief Product Officer, African Management Initiative (AMI), Kenya, Carlos Souza, CEO & Founder, Veduca of Brazil, Dr. Mansoor Al Awar, Chancellor, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, UAE, and Hazem Galal, Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, UAE.
The very definition of education was challenged by the panel represented by core education specialists, vocational and continuing education professionals, as well as consultants and industry analysts. They agreed that education is the process of transferring knowledge and skills, and the models or mechanisms of how these are done need to customized, based on the targeted audiences and geographies.
In the UAE, the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University follows a hybrid model of education delivery, blending the online model, the classroom experience, and the self-study component. The University’s Chancellor, Dr. Mansoor Al Awar, said: “There is different value that is assigned to the overall education process from each of these components of our blended offering – approximately in the range of 10 per cent from the course content itself, 70 per cent for actually engaging with the material and recreating or discussing real-world scenarios, and a further 20 per cent from mentoring and guidance from trusted advisors. The online world is changing education as we know it, and now we find that a full 35 per cent of online learners are changing their behavior to actually take advantage of the new opportunities facing them.”
Al Awar also commented that even dictionaries do not equate education to schools and universities alone, and the objective is to find the best model that works for the audience, and not to limit delivery to only traditional models. “Shopping is essential, shopping malls are not. Banking is essential, brick & mortar banks are not. In the same vein, education is essential, but schools and universities not so much”, he said.
Veduca found that lending a personal touch to education content delivered via technology saw immense improvement in course completion rates – from five per cent to 90 per cent! “We don’t want to recreate the entire classroom experience, but we want to offer the best. By enabling personal interaction with a professor to clarify doubts and explore real-world implications, by creating platforms for group discussions among peer groups, and simply by incentivising completion of assignments, modules or courses, we have been able to provide the real-world feeling to our online courses,” said Carlos Souza of Veduca.
“Technology has been feared through history across sectors, but in very few cases have we seen technology completely replace human involvement. I believe this is the same in education – technology is proving to be a great democratiser of education, but will remain only a platform on which quality content is transferred. Content creation, course delivery, and assessment will still need humans to take the lead,” said Bronwen McConkey of AMI Kenya.
A key message from global experiences of the professionals was that professors involved in delivering quality education at various levels can free themselves from repetitive content delivery and leave this to technology to deliver to the classroom. Their experience and valuable inputs can be better used in seminars and one-to-one interaction with students or even with small groups.
The current technology environment in education has not realised the potential of recreating the classroom environment although it is a fact that the current traditional model is too expensive to expand and scale. It definitely needs the communication and collaboration tools enabled by technology to broaden the reach and base of educational content. For instance, China has a huge number of students keen on learning English to a conversational level, and Canada has a number of pensioner senior citizens eager to use the Internet for interpersonal communication and networking. A unique approach has been to connect these two communities for the advantage of both, and ultimately the education of new English speakers.
The education process and environment was recognised as a valuable platform from which to transfer values and ethics from one generation to the next. This, however, is a cultural phenomenon, and it would be unfair to say that technology in education is reducing this potential. “Technology provides the enabling platform, and the educational content can be taken to the masses much easier. This would be particularly relevant in regions struggling with illiteracy levels, numbers of graduates and even K12 education,” said Hazen Galal of PwC UAE.
The 10th WIEF is being held through October 30, 2014 under the theme ‘Innovative Partnerships for Economic Growth’. With an aim to build on the strong fundamentals of Islamic values as the basis for sustainable economic development and enhance cooperation, WIEF seeks to encourage relations between the private sector and government, the individual and the community, as well as law and regulatory agencies.
For more information, visit the 10th WIEF website: www.10thwief.org