x

Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

An online classroom for the Arab world

New Arabic e-learning portal opens the door of opportunity for millions of children

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid inaugurates the largest Arabic school platform for e-learning. Wam
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid inaugurates the largest Arabic school platform for e-learning. Wam

Madrasa, a free e-learning tool designed to bridge the knowledge gap in the Arabic-speaking world, is a timely propeller for the future of Arab nations and the 50 million children who represent their future. Vice President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's goal in launching the service is “to instil a passion for learning in a new generation of young Arabs and to inspire them to apply their knowledge and give back to their home countries”. From Morocco to Oman, the standard of education across the 22 countries of the Arab League varies widely. Unesco statistics reveal a sharp divide between the six nations of the GCC, whose levels of literacy sit comfortably above the global rate of 86.3 per cent, and the rest of the Arab world.

War and social upheaval have done much to reverse progress. Libya and Syria once enjoyed high levels of literacy but with a generation of children displaced, education has been replaced as a priority by the more urgent demands of survival. By 2015, literacy in Iraq – the land known as the cradle of civilisation, which gave the world reading and writing – was measured at a shocking 43.7 per cent.

Even in peaceful nations, many children live in remote, poorly served, rural communities. As a giant virtual classroom, the Madrasa platform aspires to level the playing field. A cautionary note should be sounded. With more than 82 per cent smartphone penetration, the UAE might have the world’s highest proportion of connected users but in countries such as Morocco and Egypt, only one in three people are online. Not every child has access to the internet but this portal allows those with access to spread knowledge.

Since its foundation three years ago, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives has already done much to improve the lives of children in the Arab world, with 10 million have benefitting from the training of 400,000 teachers and the building of 2,000 new schools. Madrasa goes further. Thanks to the volunteers who have translated millions of words to create voiceovers for thousands of educational videos, at a stroke it removes the language barrier that so often hampers Arabic-speaking students and pushes back against the dominance of English that can prevent parents engaging with their children’s education.

A Unesco study of education in the Arab world expressed regret that “the early spirit of Arab researchers which greatly contributed to the advancement of human learning has almost disappeared”. If it succeeds in its ambition of becoming the number one reference source for all Arab students and improving educational outcomes across the region, Madrasa could be the key to reawakening that spirit once again.