In the past few decades, the Gulf region has come a long way in terms of education and literacy. It has grown from establishing schools to supporting students in their choice of higher education that aligns with both their talents as well as national economic goals.
Strategic partnerships with global institutions have been important, but the most important aspect that has supported literacy and education efforts in the Gulf has been the willingness of citizens to excel in academics.
Arab youth are at an advantage as far as technological literacy and access are concerned. In the coming decades, I anticipate that the region will fare well in transforming its education systems to suit growing demands.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming systems across the globe and education is no exception. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has confirmed that AI holds the potential to address some of the greatest challenges in education. It can bring about much-needed innovation in teaching and learning, while catalysing progress towards the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for inclusive and equitable quality education for all. There are challenges, of course, and it is important that disruptive technology, such as AI, is introduced in a way that is fair and does not create further inequalities.
I believe the Gulf region has a special edge in this area, particularly since we have seen an increase in numbers of Arab women opting for Stem fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in recent years, and in many cases, are surpassing men in enrolment numbers in higher education.
Computer science programmes are most notably male-dominated in western countries. In this region, however, women are taking the lead, with 70 to 80 per cent of enrolment in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and approximately 40 per cent in Arab nations as a whole. These statistics were published by the New York University in Abu Dhabi, which noted that these numbers are significantly higher compared to other parts of the world. In the US, for example, women account for 15 to 20 per cent of computer science students.
Arab women in tech are uniquely qualified. With their education and knowledge of the region, they can lead a transformation in the way education is delivered within the region and also set benchmarks that other nations can aspire to.
There truly is no better time than now for governments, educational institutions and leaders in technology to engage with these professionals, fresh graduates and students from the computer science and tech fields to brainstorm over the future of education, especially with respect to AI and the future of technology. AI can support learning needs in various ways.
Furthermore, there is potential to enrich learning models by offering immersive experiences to students at all levels through virtual and augmented reality. This is already a part of healthcare education that is growing fast, where nursing students can see a situation through the eyes of patients, and medical students are learning to perform surgery through virtual support.
Education institutions all across the GCC could benefit from incorporating more virtual and augmented reality learning components, especially to give students perspectives they may not ordinarily be able to experience in a school or university setting.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, remote, online and hybrid learning has increased, which could open up endless opportunities for students across the Gulf region. But we need extensive support from governments, particularly strategic initiatives and partnerships with tech leaders and the education sector.
App innovation and gamification in learning have also vastly changed the way students approach learning. With more children having access to smart devices, the lines between play and learning have blurred. Again, this is an area that holds great potential, specifically with reference to the Gulf region.
Widespread access to tools and uniform levels of tech literacy are essential foundations to enhance learning experiences in the region. Governments must ensure this and incentivise innovation in tech and learning. These initiatives will also support economic diversification goals and create more jobs, in addition to newer and more sustainable streams of revenue.
The world is at an interesting juncture. We are witnessing faster growth and transformations of systems than ever. Our governments and citizens have sowed the seeds for growth in coming years, but we must stay ahead of the curve and invest resources wisely.
Our people are undoubtedly our greatest asset, and we must plan strategically and use the best of our talent and other resources to support our youth in their education and learning.