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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Abu Dhabi school offers glimpse into classroom of the future 

Ten public schools in the capital will introduce tutoring tailored to their pupils' needs through the use of artificial intelligence 

Pupils use the interactive Alef Education platform at Al Asayel School. Courtesy Alef Education
Pupils use the interactive Alef Education platform at Al Asayel School. Courtesy Alef Education

Al Asayel School used to look like any other, with its whiteboards, markers and books. Now, however, traditional teaching equipment has been replaced with an interactive calendar, digital avatars and iPads.

Grade six at the school is now being exclusively taught with Alef Education, an online education platform that engages pupils through the use of technology.

First trialed in 2017, more than 6,000 pupils across Abu Dhabi will be using the programme next academic year.

The privately-held UAE-based education technology company and the Ministry of Education have signed an agreement to implement Alef’s education system in 10 Abu Dhabi public schools.

The programme will be implemented across grade six to eight and will cover mathematics, science, English and Arabic at Al Suqoor School, Al Asayel School, Fatima bint Mubarak School, Sa'ad bin Mo'ath School, Atika bint Abdel Muttalib School, Makkah School, Al Dhaher School, Al Khair School, Qatr Al Nada School and Al Nokhba School.

Through the Alef programme, children will learn by watching videos and reading digital content, while answering questions. Each lesson starts with a video and the system employs artificial intelligence to graduate pupils to the next lesson - depending on the number of questions they answer correctly.

Should a pupil appear to struggle with a concept, the system reroutes and presents the lesson again in a manner tailored to the pupil’s needs. Some children may appear to learn more from videos so the system presents information visually instead.

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Grade six pupils at Al Asayel have been learning with the help of Alef, which is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, since 2017.

Jessica Brampton, a sixth grade English teacher at the school, said pupils were responding well to the new system.

"When you introduce 21st-century skills to a generation that is growing up now, their interest piques. Pupils love the multimedia aspects and videos. Children prefer this method as they can go at their own pace and can revisit an area they are struggling with,” she said.

The system gives teachers data and feedback in real-time, helping them to ascertain areas a pupil may need more support in. Prior to Alef, the teachers would have to wait for assessment results to track development.

"Within 10 minutes of my lesson, I get feedback. I can see what they are understanding and change my approach,” said Ms Brampton.

If the system finds that only a handful of pupils are struggling with a concept, she can work with them directly. Whereas if the entire class misunderstands a concept she knows to revisit the topic.

The positive impact of implementing Alef is reflected in the pupils’ results. The average score of learning outcomes at the start of the term was between 50-60 and has shot up to between 80-90, Mr Brampton said.

Aishah Alyammahi, principal of Al Asayel School, said the innovative technology was also helping build pupils’ confidence.

“Many pupils are shy to say we won’t understand. In a video format, they can comfortably re-watch the video. They are more interested in these subjects now,” she said.

“When we compare the difference in performance between term one and term two, we can see huge progress.”

Each class has a smartboard which connects to the pupils’ laptops. Data is collected from each laptop to let the teacher know who needs more help.

"The teachers say that this makes their lives easier as the material is ready for them. The data collected helps them understand where the child is struggling. In term one many children failed in math and science but in term two most pupils passed the exams," Ms Alyammahi said.

Geoffrey Alphonso, chief executive officer of Alef Education, said he hoped to implement the system in more schools, outside of the UAE.

The company plans to implement the system from Kindergarten to grade 12 and it will be used at two schools in the United States from September.