Brendan Vyner, is the director of marketing and student recruitment at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.
Covid-19 has unequivocally transformed every aspect of our world today. While the pandemic continues to rage with varying intensity across the globe, the education sector has undergone dramatic shifts and continues to evolve. From an academic perspective, social distancing of students and teachers has meant that educational institutions needed to pivot rapidly from traditional methods of teaching and interaction to new, digital ones. According to UNESCO, about 91 per cent of the student population has been affected worldwide due to the coronavirus.
Despite the challenges it poses to universities and other educational institutions, the pandemic serves as a unique opportunity to advance education by more than a decade through leveraging tools and resources that educators had no access to earlier. Institutions – both local and global – have had to step up their efforts to digitally transform their strategies and techniques to ensure seamless online classes. These convenient tools and techniques are set to continue driving our efforts to make education future-ready.
The rise of edtech
Today’s classrooms look vastly different from the classrooms of two years ago and tomorrow’s are set to change yet again. Advanced educational technology (edtech) continues to disrupt and enhance education. Edtech tools enable more engaging, effective, inclusive and personalised learning experiences for students amid the pandemic.
Edtech has been gaining prominence as it sets about upending traditional learning methods through leveraging technology to democratise education. In recent years, governments in the GCC region have launched several initiatives to establish a knowledge-based economy. These initiatives prioritise opportunities for the region’s majority youth population and encourage the long-term reliance on edtech. According to Alpen Capital, a Dubai-based investment bank for the GCC region and Asia, the total number of students in the GCC region – including school and university students - is projected to reach 4.5 million in 2022.
University students today are digitally proficient and utilise intuitive apps to complete their everyday tasks with great ease and convenience. While edtech is an evolving field, its potential implications for these students are vast and far-reaching. In addition to transforming the student (and educator) experience, edtech plays a critical role in ensuring that students gain the knowledge and competencies to thrive in the digital age.
The Impact of technology on higher education
Clearly, traditional universities with large physical campuses that rely on in-person classes alone are now at a crossroads. With higher education continuing to evolve, so too must the offerings of universities. From the programmes and degrees offered, all the way to the facilities students now demand, universities need to be agile, nimble and receptive to ensure their sustainability in this digital age. The models of higher education will remain in flux over the short and medium-term. The rapid uptake of edtech spurred by the pandemic has accelerated the recognition of the need for change in tertiary education. While there will always be careers that require a formal university education such as those focused on STEM disciplines, multiple other careers today allow students the freedom to opt for an online or blended learning programme.
As we continue to advance in this new educational environment, it is imperative for education providers to stay ahead of technological challenges to continue ensuring a seamless process. Maintaining the quality of learning for students similar to those offered in traditional universities is critical to shaping a competitive future generation. Whether an educational institution chooses a fully virtual or hybrid methodology, technology is set to play a starring role in both educational systems.
For the foreseeable future, we will need to continue to rely on edtech to address the challenges resulting from Covid-19. In this new reality, educational institutions will need to integrate the best of remote and online learning to deliver a superior education experience for students. In navigating 2021, universities will witness a surge in investment in technology, training, and flexible curricula that significantly improve teaching models and produce better student outcomes.
A bright future ahead
The education sector in the region has always been progressive and tech-savvy. Coupled with the impact of Covid-19, edtech is set to compel legacy education models to adapt and transform to provide more customer-oriented services. Eventually, this movement may usher in the transformation of educational curricula and methodologies as institutions finally catch up to the demands of the 21st century.