• Saturday May 9th, 2020

Dubai Future Academy Highlights the Country’s Distance Learning Strategy

The prestigious line-up of speakers discussed how ‘hybrid’ learning, 21st century skills and technology will change the way students learn post COVID-19, during this year’s Ramadan Pioneer Series

In the era of distance learning capability brought in by the COVID-19 pandemic, a line-up of ministers and decision makers in the education sector highlighted why it is critical to develop a sound implementation strategy to ensure the continuity of higher education and learning, during a session titled, ‘Life After COVID-19: Higher Education’.

The virtual session was held for the first time as part of the Ramadan Pioneer Series, by Dubai Future Academy (DFAc), in collaboration with Dubai Future Research (DFR), both of which fall under the initiatives of Dubai Future Foundation (DFF).

The session saw the participation of ministers, representatives from the government and the private sector, academics and students. Speakers included H.E. Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and President of Zayed University, H.E. Dr. Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, Dr. Abdullatif AlShamsi, President & CEO, Higher Colleges of Technology, in the presence of Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, and with the participation of Meera Darwish Khalifa Bindarwish Alfalasi, Student speaker from Zayed University.

During the session, the speakers engaged in a conversation that focused on the current model of remote learning in higher education in Dubai and the UAE. They also identified the challenges for assessment in an open and distance learning system, and shared best practices including collaboration tools and engagement methods that support future learning for an inclusive student community.

Defining the new normal in higher education

HE Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, President of Zayed University, said: “Education in the UAE was able to adapt to the rapid changes that occurred following the outbreak of COVID-19, allowing educational system and university services to continue thanks to the advanced infrastructure and the incubating environment. The virtual reality, which was a hypothetical notion a few months ago, is today’s new reality. It is imperative that we harness it to serve our society. The COVID-19 crisis forced all educational institutions across the globe to review their policies and strategies, work to formulate new plans to accompany the post-COVID-19 stage to establish a new educational system, and search for alternative models – this will now push us all, as educators, to be on the constant look out for a variety of new entrants to the industry and the desire will primarily focus on the most innovative solutions that offer a high level of impact. At Zayed University we give a great level of importance on being integrated, inclusive, considerate and transparent at all times during the implementation of the remote learning experience.”

UAE is most prepared for distance learning

Praising the UAE governance model for education, H.E. Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education & Advanced Skills said: “The current global coronavirus pandemic has brought home the need for every country to have in place, strong and effective mechanisms to facilitate distant learning and ensure that students can continue their studies effectively and without interruption, even when they are unable to attend the lecture hall.

The Ministry of Education has been ahead of the curve for putting such systems in place and as such, was able to hit the ground running when it came to implement remote learning for its higher education students.”

His Excellency emphasized that undergraduate students in the UAE have been and continue to seamlessly carry on with their studies during this critical time through remote learning protocols that have been implemented to facilitate not only the acquisition of textbook knowledge, but also to enable ‘virtual internships’ and practical laboratory work, including clinical evaluations for medical students. He went on to note that during this time, undergraduates have also been empowered by being able to choose which method they wish to be assessed by and by having their student status safeguarded while needing to study off-site.

An opportunity for change

While the transition to online distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic posed a challenge to ensure continuous learning for students everywhere, Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi, President & CEO, Higher Colleges of Technology, said that situation also provided an opportunity for educational institutions and students to develop new skills.

Consequently, this challenge had resulted in the achievement of providing uninterrupted educational services to students in the UAE.

Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi highlighted that the future needs of society requires universities to invest in the gains attained from the online distance learning initiative, by building a “hybrid” educational model. “It is certain that, after almost two months of online distance learning, educational institutions will not go back to a “normal” learning environment, as the coronavirus pandemic has compelled us to re-craft education. This global crisis has given educational institutions an exceptional opportunity to be aligned with the capabilities of this tech’ savvy generation.”

Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi pointed out that the Uber-Like education model provided to students today, one that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, is not predicted to go back to the conventional approach in the near future. Instead, he believes that education will follow a new “hybrid” path, combining the conventional on-campus education with digital learning tools.

Concurrently, in his belief that online distance learning will open future opportunities for the innovativeness and competitiveness of educational institutions, as well as students, he is confident that this will pave the way for future, long-term visions, which may result in the disappearance of the conventional campus, as we know it, and its transformation to “InnCuVation Spaces”.

“Such spaces will enable advanced scholarly and research activities, as well as the delivery of comprehensive, high-quality educational services through the “Digi Campus”. Not to mention, the various attractive services and academic programs by educational institutions, and even customized programs, which are ideal for individual students’ interests and abilities, through “Big Data” analysis and the use of Artificial Intelligence, Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi noted.

Dubai Future Academy is currently hosting its annual Ramadan Pioneer Series under the theme, ‘Life After COVID-19’. The series aims to bring renowned speakers and experts to shed light about the implications of the novel virus in different sectors of society, identify key takeaways and mount a reliable plan of action for future challenges and opportunities. To attend the Pioneer Series, please register through the Dubai Future Academy website: https://www.dubaifutureacademy.ae/pioneers/