How the digital classroom lays groundwork for the future workforce

Harb Bou-Harb, senior education director, Microsoft Middle East & Africa argues that we must prepare today’s youth for our digital future

Tags: Microsoft GulfUnited Arab Emirates
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How the digital classroom lays groundwork for the future workforce Equipping each classroom with the capability to deliver new approaches to learning, provides students with a rich, immersive, collaborative experience.
By  David Ndichu Published  April 17, 2018

Each generation must prepare the next for the challenges that lie ahead, and this is never more vital than when we find ourselves in the midst of a great change.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has merged the physical and digital worlds; technologies such as artificial intelligence, mixed reality and cloud computing are becoming ever more commonplace. This is especially evident in the Arab Gulf region, where governments continue to pursue ambitious economic-growth programmes.

Hence, we must prepare today’s youth for our digital future, and this will likely be a hot topic of discussion at this year’s BETT MEA, which Microsoft is bringing to the region for the third consecutive year. The aspiration behind BETT is to drive important discussions between policymakers, school leaders and educators around student-centric approaches to education, and to lay the groundwork for future employability and economic growth.

The problem-solvers of tomorrow

But this year’s BETT MEA will hardly be the debut for the subject of student-centric learning. The global education community has long been proactive in bringing technology to the classroom, using it to not only engender familiarity among students with the technology itself, but using apps and tools to develop soft skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, leadership, critical thinking and innovation.

In December, the UAE became the world’s first country to appoint a minister of state – His Excellency Omar bin Sultan Al Olama – specifically to oversee artificial intelligence. This is a strong indication of how seriously the UAE takes AI and its potential to transform lives. It is also an indication of how the job market into which school-leavers are now plunged is changing. 

According to a recent Microsoft research, more than two in three (68%) GCC enterprises will invest 5% or more of their revenue in digital transformation this year. More than half (51%) will migrate to the intelligent cloud. Some 29% will look to integrate artificial intelligence into their organisations, while other adoption targets are business intelligence (41%), the Internet of Things (37%), automated workflow (25%), predictive analytics (21%) and robotics and machine automation (14%).

New approaches

Society will look to today’s students to fulfil the roles that go along with these technologies, as well as to plug an increasingly wide skills gap in the field of cyber-security. It is for this very reason that Microsoft has committed itself to helping every student and teacher achieve more. We believe that equipping each classroom with the capability to deliver new approaches to learning – provides students with the rich, immersive, collaborative experiences they need to ignite their innate curiosity and creativity.

Beyond the GCC, in the wider Arab world, almost 4.5 million children are not in school. In Africa, 17 million children will never attend school and 37 million will not learn enough in school to prepare for their life beyond it. More than 28% of the Middle East's population is aged between 15 and 29 – that's more than 108 million young people all needing to learn the critical-thinking, creative and communication skills that are in such need in the digital age.

But we still have work to do to prepare our successors for the challenges ahead. A global study by McKinsey showed that only 42% of employers believe new graduates are adequately prepared for the modern workplace, especially with regards to soft skills such as emotional and social aptitudes.

Making the time

The study also showed that students receiving personalised coaching and individualised feedback perform better than 98% of students taught in a more traditional manner. But, while more than half (51%) of teachers believed they had strong, individual relationships with their students, just over a third (34%) of students agreed. The answer lies in ensuring that teachers have time to engage effectively with students. Surveyed teachers said the right technology freed up their time – up to 30% of it – and allowed them to focus on delivering personalised, engaging experiences to students.

In January this year, at its annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic forum released a Future Jobs report in which it predicted that just under two thirds of children around the world who are currently starting school will end up working in professions that do not yet exist. So, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, like its predecessors, is likely to be a net creator of jobs. But technology companies and educators must work together to ensure that the torch is passed smoothly, and that those children will be ready to become our future.

I’m looking forward to being part of these discussions at this year’s BETT MEA, and discover the joint initiatives required to deliver truly student-centric approaches to education and underpin future employability and economic growth.

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