A new e-learning tool to assist more than 50 million children across the Arabic speaking world is "merely the beginning" of a broader education drive, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid has said.
The online portal was launched on Tuesday by the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai and unlocks knowledge and information in mathematics and sciences for school pupils.
About 5,000 videos with explanations and interactive content for kindergarten to year 12 can be accessed for free on www.madrasa.org .
The platform aims to remove the barrier that Arab pupils encounter when they search for resources and information predominantly available in English.
“Last year I spoke of education, education and education as a priority. I want to assure you that is is merely the beginning,” Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, told a gathering at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.
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Dozens of young pupils and volunteers who helped translate English material into Arabic were part of the audience in a hall which was turned into a classroom setting, featuring individual desks on which school notebooks were placed.
In a mammoth effort, about 11 million words were translated over the past year by 300 volunteers, who transcribed, re-wrote, edited, and provided voice overs for the 5,000 videos in maths, science, physics, chemistry and biology.
The content was obtained from the popular, non-profit Khan Academy that provides online video courses that have been translated into about 30 languages.
The madrasa e-learning platform is part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives announced by the UAE Vice President in September last year to fill the gap in understanding science and mathematics among school children.
Millions are expected to log on to the site with plans to add more subjects.
Small villages not connected to the internet will be reached in future programmes so Arab children in underprivileged communities are not left behind.
“This is an empowerment tool for everybody who has a dream. The language barrier stops many talented people in this region from dreaming and reaching their full potential,” Saeed Mohammed Al Attar, director general of the Office of Public Diplomacy at the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future told The National.
“We may have a great mathematician but if he does not know English, he cannot access material. This will empower people with education by giving them all the material needed to excel in any scientific subject.”
New courses such as Arabic language, computer science, programming, engineering, artificial intelligence, space science and life skills will later be added.
Tuesday's launch made good Sheikh Mohammed’s commitment last year of a free education programme for up to 50 million Arab pupils.
About 52,000 people responded to his call to reproduce thousands of videos into Arabic.
“It was a very big task and now we have the experience to translate a mass of content. The aim is to achieve Sheikh Mohammed’s vision of bringing the best international educational material to each and every Arab child who does not speak English,” Mr Al Attar said.
“We will soon announce offline solutions to reach small villages that don’t have access to the internet and give them physical material for schools so they too can learn and enjoy this huge database.”
Agreements will also be signed with more global education content providers to expand the offerings available.
The volunteers formed the backbone of the project and were selected following assessments of language and voice clarity.
University students Amal Al Mulla and Al Anood Al Breiki travelled every week from Umm Al Quwain and Abu Dhabi respectively to Dubai for the translations.
Al Anood recalled struggling in high school to find online assistance in biology and maths.
“I faced many difficulties in finding the Arabic explanation on the internet and so I really liked the idea of the madrasa project to help youth in the Middle East,” said Al Anood, a Khalifa University engineering student who provided voice overs in all subjects including calculus.
Fellow volunteer Amal, a Zayed University student who recorded math, chemistry and biology videos, said: “I was happy to be part of a team that will touch other people’s lives not just in the UAE but in countries that don’t have resources in Arabic."
Translations involved explaining the concept clearly to pupils, said Hassan Saqer, another volunteer and coordinator for advanced science at the Ministry of Education.
“We had to make sure that when a student hears or reads what we translated, they would understand it. So whenever I translated, I put myself in the shoes of the student,” said Mr Saqer, who reproduced math videos.
The project piqued the interest of young learners in the audience.
Nine-year-old Fatma Suroor, a Year 4 pupil said she was excited to see the rulers at the event. “I sometimes get nervous about maths, so this will help me learn,” she said.