DUBAI // All government schools in the country will be hooked up to free Wi-Fi and receive new computer equipment within three years.
The Ministry of Education has begun developing a data centre to meet the technology needs of the 420 government schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
The first phase began this year in 50 schools that will receive new hardware and software including computers and laptops. Secondary schools will be targeted first.
Teachers will be given tablet PCs and will teach lessons on electronic whiteboards. Students will also be able to access online resources anywhere in the school through Wi-Fi.
The initiative, part of the ministry's Education Strategy 2010 to 2020, aims to solve issues of internet connection and encourage the use of information and communications technology, said Badria Yousif, IT director at the ministry. "Free high connectivity, together with a wide bandwidth will be provided to all schools," she said. "All the hardware will be replaced every five years and installation of the latest software, upgrades and licence renewals will be taken care of by the ministry."
She said the measure would ensure students were better equipped for higher education and the marketplace. "Our education system will compete with other international education systems around the world," she said.
A similar project to equip more than 300 public school in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia was announced by the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
Public schools currently pay for their internet and technical support from their annual budget.
Yousef al Shehhi, the principal of Al Rams Secondary School in Ras al Khaimah, said the monthly internet bills "can be between Dh4,000 and Dh5,000 and last year we faced a lot of disruption [of service]".
He said some computers were outdated, but "it gets hard to allocate an amount from the budget for this, because there could be other important things to attend to".
Anna Batchelder, founder of Bon Education, which trains public school teachers in the use of technology in lessons, said the enthusiasm to learn new methods was high but often crushed in a school with disconnected internet.
"Some schools have subscribed to internet services, but the bills haven't been paid because it is not seen as a priority," she said. "Some schools have a single lab that is shared by the entire school. It becomes challenging to have interactive projects if the schools aren't appropriately equipped."
Principals in some schools said they had the equipment but not the know-how to fix problems.
"We need someone who can regularly check and service our computers," said Aziza Yousef al Mulla of Fatima Bint Outba School in Fujairah. "Nobody at the school can do it, so we have to hire a technician, which is expensive for us."
Ms Yousif said the data centre will have a help desk to address technical problems.
Natasha Ridge, an expert in public education and researcher at the Dubai School of Government, said computers and the internet should not be confined to IT classes. "Every teacher should be comfortable using IT in their daily lessons," she said.