Dubai's Digital School for refugee children launched in five countries

The first phase of the ambitious project aims to enrol 20,000 pupils

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched the initiative. Photo: Wam
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A digital education project by the Dubai government for refugee and underprivileged children has started across five countries, with a goal to enrol 20,000 youngsters this year.

The update was announced at Expo 2020 Dubai on Monday.

The digital school seeks to provide an education to one million refugee and underprivileged children over the next five years.

It will offer some pupils free devices to help them use a special online learning platform to access lessons.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Global Initiatives is behind the project and has started teaching refugees and underprivileged children in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Mauritania and Colombia.

Several different entities from the UAE are helping make the project possible, including the Ministry of Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, Dubai Cares, Emirates Red Crescent and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, said the Digital School was a unique humanitarian drive. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“The Digital School is a humanitarian initiative unlike any other and it is happening in the time period when the world has gone through one of the most difficult pandemics ever,” said Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications.

“The UAE was able to create a transition that moved us from conventional to digital education overnight.

“This also inspired His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to think about the students who are behind during this very difficult time.

“So, towards the end of 2020, he announced that he wants to work on the digital education for children in the least privileged areas around the world.”

A tie-up with leading universities is helping to provide technological solutions in these remote areas where pupils do not have access to digital learning tools.

These include Arizona State University, Harvard, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and Education Alliance.

A pilot phase started in 2021, where children in the Emirati-Jordanian Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp were taught several subjects.

Teachers available in remote areas are being provided with training, while some are teaching pupils remotely.

“We've also worked on training teachers in partnership with Arizona State University," Mr Al Olama said.

“We’re giving them the best in-class training possible to ensure that they are able to take students through that journey.

“This is to ensure that students don’t drop out and they’re able to gain from their education journey on the platform.”

The goal is to have 500 teachers participating in the project this year, and have 100,000 new pupils enrolled by next year.

It is hoped that enrolment numbers will increase rapidly after the first two years to reach the goal of one million students by 2027.

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, director general of KHDA, said it has been working with local education bodies to create education solutions, as well as international accrediting organisations so that the pupils’ diploma is recognised internationally.

“We focus a lot on working with local education bodies in the countries we are working with to ensure that the content gets digitised and mapped accordingly to their standards and their outcomes,” he said.

“On the other hand, we are very confident that one of the key sustainable elements of this project is the teachers themselves.

“They have knowledge about the subject but also about the technology and the platform to ensure that the maximum benefits being realised.”

Dubai Cares announced on Monday that it has donated a grant of Dh5 million ($1.36m) to the project.

Updated: February 28, 2022, 3:51 PM