Education: The bedrock of society
ACN takes a closer look at the education sector, exploring how technology is changing how lessons are taught, and how future it talent is fostered
Like so many other sectors in the Middle East and across the world, the education industry is in the midst of digital transformation. The influence of IT trends, such as the Internet-of-Things, BYOD, Big Data and Cloud, are beginning to drive the development of technology-based learning programs, forever altering the classroom environment.
According to a report produced last year by Alpen Capital on the GCC Education Industry, the Middle East’s e-learning market will peak at $560.7m in 2016, growing by an average rate of 8.2% per since 2014.
The report, which contains projections for the industry leading up to 2020, identified Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar, as the top three countries poised for the fastest growth over 2016.
Elsewhere, the results from the 2016 Veeam Availability Report found that 36% of respondents from the private and higher education sector were currently investing in private cloud, while another 23% were reportedly investing in public cloud infrastructure.
Collated from the responses of more than 1,000 IT decision-makers across a variety of sectors, Veeam’s study also noted that 43% of respondents from the private and higher education sector were in the process of investing in data protection and disaster recovery.
A strong indication that education providers were quickly realising the benefits of a constant service with limited disruption, additional analysis also showed that 34% were planning to invest in data protection and disaster recovery in the short-term. Eleven percent reported considering an implementation within the next two years.
A brand new set of tools
Recent advances in the classroom include the introduction of technology-based teaching aids, such as interactive whiteboards and the conversion of notebooks to tablets. More sophisticated institutions have also begun the process of digitising their learning resources, making materials available on the cloud, and have even started to develop a variety of e-services, beneficial for both teachers and students, alike.
Another set of technologies that is making waves in the e-learning market lies with augmented and virtual reality. Capable of providing experiences often beyond the reach of the user, both AR and VR are being used by teachers to take their students on journeys to different parts of the world, exploring the anatomy of the human body from within, as well as touring recreations of ancient cities.
One company exploring the possibilities of AR is ITWORX Education, a global software professional services organisation. Providing a variety of learning technologies to K-12 education, higher education and the corporate environment, ITWORX Education gained global recognition in 2016 for its work with Syrian refugee children.
“We are using HoloLens which is the latest technology from Microsoft on augmented reality. We build content that helps vocational learning. We have it in Egypt office with the development team,” comments Hatem Sallam, CEO, ITWORX Education.
Elaborating further, the CEO explained that the HoloLens could prove to be an affordable alternative in teaching vocational studies, such as mechanical or electrical training, particularly in cases where access to spare parts is at a premium.
Using auto-mechanic studies as an example, the HoloLens is able to presents students a virtual construct of an engine, along with all the different parts required in its construction or repair. The user can then interact with each virtual part, placing them in their designated spot on the engine, and then run the machine to check results.
Additionally, the HoloLens can blow up the size of the engine, granting users a closer and deeper look into the intricate workings of the machine, a feat that is impossible to do with the naked eye.
ITWORX Education’s long-standing partnership with Microsoft dates back to 2003, where the company contributed to the coding and development for Microsoft Learning Gateway. It then spent the next few years driving the platform’s adoption in more than 170 countries. In recognition of its work, ITWORX Education was named Best Public Sector Education Provider by Microsoft back in 2014.
Outside of augmented reality, ITWORX Education is also exploring the possibilities surrounding digital education records. Akin to an electronic health record, as utilised within the healthcare sector, this data package would contain not only a list of successfully completed degrees and certifications, but will also detail how the individual performed in each related course.
Coupled with analytics, an education record could be greatly beneficial to teachers in identifying a student’s strengths and weaknesses. It would enable teachers to devise more targeted content in future coursework.
Such a tool would also be of use to companies during the recruitment process. In certain cases, a good academic performance could be equally as important as having the right qualifications. Having access to detailed information on performance could become a deciding factor for hiring, but it could also give organisations a clearer picture of where the candidate may benefit from additional training.
“This means in a company when I am recruiting somebody, I understand the ways of learning that he or she actually learned,” explains Sallam.
“We avoid a lot of inefficiencies in the workplace … the opportunities that technology brings to education helps us to prepare the workforce faster, for certain jobs that are needed,” he adds.
An environment to flourish
Fostering future IT talent can require a little more than simply having the right technology in place. Sometimes it about providing the right environment and support structure that not only engages the students’ learning, but also provides them with a glimpse of the future work environment.
Such has been the case with Red Hat Academy, an open source education program that provides turnkey curriculum materials to partner academic institutions across the world. Offered by open source technology provider Red Hat, the education programme offers support in a variety of forms, which include hands on instruction, a comprehensive curriculum, lab access, performance-based testing, and instructor support.
“The Red Hat Academy curriculum is now available to member academies in a variety of methods, including printed, eBook, and online,” comments Hesham Abdel Mohsen, business development manager – META, Global Learning Services at Red Hat.
“Our goal was to make it easy for academies to adopt and integrate our content into their respective programs — in a way that best fits their needs.”
Available in a number of countries across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, Red Hat Academy is also readily available in the Middle East. Back in January 2017, Red Hat signed King Abdulaziz University on as a Red Hat Academy Partner in Saudi Arabia, becoming the latest academic institution in the region to offer the program.
“The content we offer through Red Hat Academy teaches students about popular technologies that are open source, but the content itself is not open source. While our content is proprietary, we make it available for free to any degree-granting, educational institution that wants to teach it to their students,” explains Mohsen.
“There are many good reasons for education institutions to teach Red Hat’s open source technologies but the high growth in open source and the high demand for professionals with skills in open source technologies like Linux are the key drivers.”
In addition to offering Red Hat courses, King Abdulaziz University will teach the open-source technology provider’s curriculum across many of the Red Hat’s operating platforms, which include Linux, middleware and cloud technologies.
Students will also have access to Red Hat certification examinations, which include the Red Hat Certified System Administration (RHCSA) and Red Hat Certified JBoss Developer (RHCJD).
Furthermore, a key component of the Red Hat Academy Program entails ensuring adequate lab access is available for students, giving them the opportunity to put concepts learned to the test.
“The main technical requirements pertain to offering labs to students to practice what they learn. We believe this is a very important part of learning, which is why we offer multiple different options to help institutions do this,” comments Mohsen.
“These include partnerships with authorised third parties who can provide the labs to the institution, as well as detailed specifications and support should the institution wish to do it themselves.”
The right stuff
Launched back in January, 2005, Middlesex University Dubai, which is based in Dubai Knowledge Park, became one of the first oversees campus of Middlesex University in London. Offering both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, the university oversees the academic development of over 2,700 students from across 90 nationalities.
Serving as senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and part of the Department of Computer Engineering and Informatics of the School of Science and Technology, Dr. Fehmida Hussain has seen her fair share of IT talent pass through the university.
“I am sure you have heard of So-Lo-Mo, which means Social, Location and Mobile. These three trends truly characterize our digital workforce and the digital landscape. We are living in the era of a mature Web 2.0, moving towards Web 3.0, the semantic web,” explains Dr Hussain, who also serves as the Campus Programme Coordinator.
“We are no longer worried about storage of data or access or data; what we are faced with no is the overload of data, being able to sift through what is now termed as ‘Big Data’ to be able to make sense out of all the raw data available to us,” she adds.
When asked which IT skill sets are currently sought by enterprises, Dr Hussain explains that the average employee is typically seeking two types of skills — soft skills and technical skills. Elaborating further, she explains that soft skills are always in high demand and usually comprise of general skills, such as effective communication, good presentation skills, as well as being able to work effectively in teams.
“In terms of the technical skills, from the perspective of careers in computer science/computer Engineering or Information technology, skills in demand from a fresh graduate are programming, networking knowledge, web and mobile app development, software analysis and design, knowledge of Cloud computing, data analytics and computer security” she says.
Dr Hussain went on to elaborate that from an academic institution standpoint, it is immensely challenging to maintain a curricula that matches the current pace of technological advancement. Higher education institutions often have to devise new ways to prepare students for the modern workforce, ensuring that they receive “hand-on experience with the emerging technologies.”
To tackle this issue, Middlesex University Dubai’s Department of Computer Engineering and Informatics, reached to industry partners that were members of the university’s Academic Alliance program.
Comprising of a number of high-profile tech firms, such as SAP, IBM, Oracle, Cisco, and Dell-EMC, Middlesex University works closely with its partners to offer students courses focused on emerging technologies, as well as access to certification examinations.
“Without a doubt, the areas in demand are mobile developers, cloud architects, data scientists and security specialists. These areas have to be incorporated into the curricula and expose them while they are in University,” comments Dr Hussain.
“But given how quickly new technologies are coming in the market, it is most important that we are able to prepare our graduates to develop the ability and the zeal to learn new things and nurture their creative and analytical thinking skills.”