Dr Azza El-Shinnawy, Head of Education, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Middle East and Africa

Dr Azza El-Shinnawy is Head of Education for the Middle East and Africa and Head of Egypt, Public Sector, at Amazon Web Services (AWS). With over twenty years of professional and academic experience, El-Shinnawy helps customers in the region realise the full potential of cloud computing to transform education and better serve citizens. Before joining AWS, she worked at Microsoft for nine years in education and public sector roles.

 

Before March of this year, Thinqi was an online learning management system platform used by the Egyptian education system to support year 10 and 11 students in some aspects of their studies. Then, COVID-19 struck. As learning shifted remotely, the government tasked Thinqi developer CDSM with massively scaling its operations – to enable continued education for the country’s 22 million students, in 50,000 schools. Working with Amazon Web Services (AWS), CDSM met the challenge at short notice. Within 5 hours of the site going live, it hit 7.3 million page views with 574,000 individual users engaging in digital learning.

Around the same time in the UAE, Alef Education was quickly expanding free access to its learning platforms to more than 100,000 students in almost 300 schools with support from AWS. In Jordan, the Darsak.gov.jo e-learning platform was built in just one week led by Mawdoo3.com to help provide remote education to students, with classes being viewed more than 35 million times. Leveraging the country’s existing cloud-based remote learning solution, the Kingdom of Bahrain redesigned the education portal to further scale in just one week, which by April saw an exponential increase with over 600% more visits.

All over the world, Covid-19 has accelerated digital adoption and forced innovation in education towards better delivery of education to students. Yet the pandemic is not the only driver of change – misalignments between funding in education and national and employer priorities, and increasing demand for flexibility and personalisation from students is creating a “perfect storm” scenario.

But the challenge for universities and schools alike is not merely a question of balancing in-person and online education – personalised or otherwise – in response to a health and safety challenge. They have to respond to a more complex Rubik’s cube of socio-political, economic, competitive, and technical challenges.

So, in the eye of this storm, what are the trends that will make sure that education will never be the same again?

1. Flexible learning is here to stay

A blend of online teaching and face-to-face learning is already common among universities, while schools are looking at shorter-term strategies as they face up to Covid-19. At the same time, most educators now agree that personalised education yields better learning outcomes, and technology has accelerated this process. The so-called ‘flip classroom’ model, where students absorb new materials as homework and use classroom time for discussion, attempts to personalise the process of learning, with some success.

For teaching to be more effective and to deliver on the potential of personalised education, educators agree that they should focus on how students are engaging with the material and use technology to drive engagement and interaction.

For example, Alef Education utilises AI-powered technology built on AWS that enables students to follow their own personalised learning pathways. As students use the platform, it gathers millions of data points in real-time to help teachers tune into live student feedback. Amjad Khan, Director of Technology at Alef Education, says. “We collect data on how well the student had understood the content. We take into account how much time students spent on a lesson. We look into how well they have answered for a particular lesson and at how they have answered in the correlation of that lesson with another lesson. This is where we understand each student’s weakness and make it possible for the teacher to be able to help him or her progress and improve.”

2. Universities will focus more on the employability of students

COVID-19 prompted a newfound urgency to reinvent curricula and offer flexible learning. There is also more interest in stackable learning, defined as taking a selection of academic programs that can stack together to achieve a certificate or degree. For years, community colleges and further education institutions have been adopting alternative certifications in an effort to keep up with the pace of change in the jobs demanded by the labour market. Stackable learning is a good fit for students balancing their education with full or part-time jobs, not least because it recognises the knowledge and skills gained through activities beyond traditional degree courses like certificates, digital badges, and apprenticeships.

Global consultancy McKinsey forecasts that by 2030, 85 per cent of elementary school students in the MENA region will work in professions that do not exist yet.

With most teaching moving online, educators need ways to assess learning remotely. In response to the pandemic, many countries either cancelled or postponed their national end-of-year tests for secondary schools. Other schools and universities attempted to move their exams online to wrap up the full academic year for their students.

3. Closing the digital divide

Digital learning is here to stay. Yet, many students do not have access to the technology necessary for online learning, be it devices or a reliable internet connection. This problem is particularly acute for primary and secondary school students. According to UNICEF, 37 million – or 40% of MENA school children – are unable to access remote learning platforms.

There are promising solutions that are helping students connect no matter their location. For example, some schools are providing broadband by installing hotspot devices on buses to deploy in areas with no connectivity. The devices are simple to use, compliant with federal laws protecting children’s access to online content, and their wireless signal can reach homes within a 100-meter radius. Educators are proving to be resourceful in this crisis. Many are using low-bandwidth technology, including chat apps, to learn and connect with their students, parents, and peers. In countries where connectivity may be a challenge due to extenuating circumstances, TV has proven to be a useful tool. In Jordan, for example, a sports station ‘transformed’ itself into an educational channel.

More About Dr Azza El-Shinnawy

El-Shinnawy holds a PhD in International Development from the London School of Economics in the UK, an MA in Development Economics from the University of East Anglia in the UK, and an MA in Public Administration from the American University in Cairo. El-Shinnawy has worked with the Government of Egypt as an advisor to the Minister of Investment, with the World Health Organization as an expert on health policy, and at the American University in Cairo, where she taught public policy at the graduate level. She has also undertaken numerous public sector consultancies and advisory roles with multilateral organisations, becoming a recognised expert and published strategist on health, trade, and industrial policies, and on FDI strategies in emerging markets.

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