x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Smart Learning Program transforms education in UAE’s government schools

Students who don't feel comfortable raising their hands in class have the option of submitting their questions electronically through an instant messaging system.

Grade 7 pupils at Umm Suqeim Model School in an English class use high-technology equipment as part of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Grade 7 pupils at Umm Suqeim Model School in an English class use high-technology equipment as part of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Textbooks have been replaced by tablet computers in Rasha El Khatib’s Grade 7 English class, and everyone is connected to the internet.

Pencils are no longer in play, having been swapped for stylus pens with which pupils tap answers on their personal screens or the classroom Smart Board.

Pupils who do not feel comfortable raising their hands in class can submit their questions electronically through an instant messaging system.

The messages can be sent privately to the teacher or shared with the classroom.

At the end of the day students and teachers take their free, school-issued tablets home.

A series of educational applications that can be accessed offline lets the children review their teacher’s lesson plans, complete homework assignments and read digital textbooks.

Ms El Khatib’s students at Umm Suqeim Model School are among 9,963 Grade 7 and 1,439 Grade 8 pupils in 123 government schools taking part in the Mohammed bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme.

The initiative was launched in 2012 after an edict by Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. It was introduced to schools this academic year.

By 2017, the Smart Learning Programme will be installed in all K-12 government school classes.

“The main goal is to reform education in the UAE to become one of the best education systems in the world,” said Mohammed Gheyath, director general of the programme.

“We’re not giving tablets or internet connections only, we are enhancing the entire education ecosystem, starting from the curriculum all the way through to the technology and gadgets that will help them to access the curriculum.”

The programme has supplied students and teachers with Samsung tablets and placed Smart Boards in classrooms. The tablets come installed with programs called Smart Author for teachers and Smart Reader for students.

Developed by ITWorx, Smart Author gives teachers digital tools to develop and teach interactive lessons. The Smart Reader allows students to review their e-lessons and access textbooks even without an internet connection.

There is also a social-learning “gateway” called Study Live, with live discussions and messaging that can foster communications among the teachers, students and parents.

“The programme has a lot of benefits,” said Ms El Khatib, who oversees the introduction of Smart Learning at Umm Suqeim Model School for girls in Dubai.

“It helps us in preparing interesting lessons that can attract the attention of the students. It also gives all the students the opportunity to practise the interactive content at the same time, which saves a lot of time.

“The gateway also helps the teachers to communicate with all the students and their parents. We can also communicate with other teachers, so we can share the learning resources and the experience together.

“In addition, the programme can correct the students’ exams and analyse their results, which also saves a lot of time for the teachers.”

Teachers underwent five weeks of intensive training for the new system.

“Everything at the beginning is difficult but we try to support the programme as much as we can,” said Lobna El Gammal, adoption team specialist at Umm Suqeim Girls School.

“ITWorx visits us every week. The engineers come to the school every week. We’re here every day trying to support the teachers.

“At the beginning we started doing some lessons together until they managed how to do them by themselves, so they’re working on it fine now.”

Noora Mohammad, 14, a Grade 7 pupil at Umm Suqeim, said the new system was welcome.

“There have been a lot of changes since we started using tablets,” said Noora, an Emirati.

“Now I can use the internet to do research in the classroom and we can communicate with our teacher and other students.

“The classroom has changed because before a lot of time was spent writing notes and the teacher talking about what she’s writing, and now the material is on the screen so we don’t have to write as much.

“I feel more comfortable using the tablet than the books because it’s much more entertaining.”

rpennington@thenational.ae