MBRSLP: Smart learning success

Mohammed Gheyath, director general of Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Program discusses the government’s initiative to integrate technology in public education

Tags: E-learningMohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Program (smartlearning.gov.ae/)Smart learning
  • E-Mail
MBRSLP: Smart learning success Gheyath: MBRSLP is responsible for transforming education through technology. (ITP Images)
By  Parinaaz Navdar Published  December 7, 2016

While the UAE’s private schools have integrated the use of technology in the classroom for a while now, it was only in 2013 that the public school sector adopted a digital strategy in its classrooms. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Program (MBRSLP) was launched in April 2012 under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai; with its aims aligned to the UAE Vision 2021 to become a knowledge-based economy through the integration of technology in education. Overseeing the implementation of the programme is director general Mohammed Gheyath, who helped launch the initiative in 2012.

Gheyath previously headed up the technology development department at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which is part of the committee involved in funding the MBRSLP. Other stakeholders involved in the committee include the UAE’s Minister of Education Hussain Al Hammadi, and a representative from the prime minister’s office.

“The MBRSLP was established by a decree from the UAE cabinet, which dictated that the programme will be responsible for transforming the education environment around the student and teacher,” Gheyath explained.

The term ‘environment’ was left open to interpretation and Gheyath and his team had to determine whether they would look at transforming the classroom itself, the school, the tools teachers use, or the content.

The decree made the MBRSLP responsible for ensuring all teachers and students were “equipped with the right skills for a 21st century education”, Gheyath says, including discussing what tools would be required for teachers, school management and the education administration to monitor progress of the project, and how to provide the facilities to actively engage students in their education and enable them, with teachers, to set their own aspirations and targets.

To establish a structure for the programme, the MBRSLP team worked on a landscape review to study the state of public education in 2012. The report highlighted where the system stood, the gaps that needed to be filled, and the aspirations for public education in the UAE.

“Then we established what we call the overall strategic plan, looking at the strategic plan for the programme, and what the programme’s five-year plan will be. We have an overarching plan starting in 2013, and ending during the 2018/19 academic year in terms of what the programme should do, the areas it should focus on, what it should implement in schools, and how much budget it will need over the years,” Gheyath explains.

The plan to turn the UAE’s public schools into smart schools includes connecting the schools to a data centre that was built in 2013, in addition to equipping schools with all the technology — including laptops and tablet devices — required.

With every academic year, the programme will absorb more students and schools until it reaches all UAE government schools by 2019. To date, the smart learning programme includes 202 schools, 6,825 teachers and 34,570 students across the UAE.

Students in Grades 7-12 each receive their own device, while the programme will implement a one-to-four sharing strategy for Grades 6 and lower. At present, the programme has equipped all students in Grades 7-10 with devices, with Grade 11 students scheduled to receive their tablets next year. The programme will also begin rolling out in primary schools, starting with Grade 4 next year, Gheyath says.

“We are in what we call the implementation year. This starts in June and ends in April next year. We go into the school, we ensure the school is connected to the data centre we built in 2013, and there is Wi-Fi connectivity in each classroom.

“We ensure that each classroom has a smartboard, and that all the teachers have laptops in their hands, all the students have tablets in their hands, and we support the devices with the smart learning gateway (SLG). The SLG is the learning management solution (LMS) we have in place, which holds all the content application tools and interactive objects we built for the programme,” Gheyath explains.

The SLG contains an authoring and lesson planning tool for teachers, quizzes and assessments, a digital library, and a collaboration platform for teachers and students to interact.

Building strong relationships with suppliers has also been an important part of the project’s execution. Since 2013, the MBRSLP has worked with technology companies such as Microsoft, HP, Samsung, Dell, LG, and more, on different parts of the roll-out.

“We have a different relationship with the partners during each phase of the programme. In the beginning there’s the initiation of the programme where we need lots of support in terms of advice and access to different best practices in the world, experiences, and exposure to technology in general in a classroom. But as the programme evolved, our relationship with our partners also evolved and they became part of the programme in terms of ensuring that we can showcase the success we have achieved.

While the technology, in terms of hardware and networks, was readily available, one of the challenges Gheyath and his team faced was the availability of Arabic content.

“All the content providers were English content providers so we had to start from scratch. We worked with our partners to build the content from the absolute beginning. We engaged the teachers and the school mentors to develop the content in Arabic, which was then fed back into the curriculum in order to support the programme,” Gheyath explains.

“So far we’ve built more than 7,000 reusable objects or ROs, where you can use these objects for different purposes in the classroom or during the lesson planning. We have different models of the content — if content is curated internally within the programme, we provide it. There is content we can fetch from different resources available online, and there is content that is generated through the communities we have built and support the teachers with. There is some content that is provided by students themselves. We provide tools to the students, and we’ve seen that there are students who are really skilful in programming and gaming and coding, and they provide the content, and games and simulations that help them understand certain subjects better and help their peers as well. That worked very well,” he adds.

In addition to equipping the schools with all the hardware, the programme is also responsible for training teachers and school leaders on using technology in the classroom, and provides professional development opportunities.

“We have two different tracks — one is the general training at the beginning of each year, and we have the professional development programme, which runs throughout the year and is a continuous support to school managers and teachers on how to use the technology in the best way for their education outcomes. So it’s not technology for its own sake — it’s to use the technology for the education outcomes,” Gheyath says.

At present, most teachers have adopted a blended approach, using textbooks and technology in their lessons. While teachers are given the freedom to choose how much of the curriculum is taught using the technology provided by MBRSLP, the intention is that eventually, all lessons will be delivered digitally in the smart schools.

Gheyath also notes that while getting teachers to adapt to new technology was a challenge, the overall response from the teaching community has been positive.

“The majority of teachers welcomed and appreciated the change, and this has been reflected in the annual assessment conducted by London University in the UK. They come every year and assess the programme’s implementation in the school, they interview teachers, students, principals, and school managers to see how successful the programme is and how effective we were in ensuring the technology in the hands of principals and teachers is easy to use. And the response has been significant — we didn’t expect participation from a large number of teachers and school principals, but the response was huge, and it was positive,” Gheyath says.

While the team continues to work on encouraging teachers to integrate technology in their lessons, Gheyath admits it’s the opposite with students, saying: “The only challenge [with students] was to meet their expectations because they are way ahead of everything we planned.

“The students were always demanding more, and our main challenge was, because it’s a massive programme and because it’s a national programme, we had to cater for the requirements of teachers, managers, faculty, and the MoE… and the students were way ahead of everyone. They live in a digital world now, they know how to deal with devices, they know how to deal with technology; they actually surpassed the teachers’ expectations in the classroom.

“We didn’t have any issues with them adopting the technology; it was intuitive for them. And the first policy we implemented in the schools was that the devices should remain with the students and they should do anything they want with it. We did not even stop them from playing games on their devices because we wanted to engage them in the first year.

“For us, the students were the absolute support for the programme,” Gheyath states.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code