Coronavirus: How UAE moved education for 1.2 million pupils online after outbreak

Satellite operations centre and bringing public figures to inspire children online were key

Hussain Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, and Edward Zhou, Vice President for Global Public Affairs of Huawei, take part in a panel discussion titled ‘Pushing the limits in the healthcare, telecoms and education sectors: bent, but not broken?’during the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit. Wam
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The UAE had to drastically upgrade its internet speed and coverage to ensure all 1.2 million pupils and students could continue their education online when Covid-19 broke out.

When cases of the coronavirus slowly began to rise, the government acted quickly and instated distance learning for schools and universities.

It was March 4 and the UAE had 27 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

The UAE was well prepared for distance learning because smart-learning initiatives have been in place since 2012, the Minister of Education, Hussain Al Hammadi, said on Saturday.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Smart Learning Initiative was established eight years earlier and offered pupils the option to study using devices.

It gave the country a solid base from which to build a wide-scale model.

We had to upgrade internet speed by almost 100 per cent

"We really invested a lot a long time ago in all these infrastructure requirements to enable us to continue educating in different scenarios," Mr Al Hammadi said during a panel discussion titled "Pushing the limits in the healthcare, telecoms and education sectors: bent, but not broken?" at the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit.

"We had 1.2 million-plus students in the general education that we had to shift, within two weeks, to this platform for full 100 per cent learning.

"We had never taught this big a number through distance learning. We had to upgrade internet speed by almost 100 per cent.”

The country did this by developing a satellite operations centre to ensure pupils across the country had access to the internet at all times.

Free satellite services were set up so pupils in remote areas of the emirate could also continue their education.

It made “a big difference in our education system", Mr Al Hammadi said.

The ministry also set up online seminars presented by well-known artists and athletes, to motivate pupils and students to study.

"We wanted to keep the kids engaged. we wanted them to have sports, exercise, art competitions," Mr Al Hammadi said.

Locally known musicians and athletes spoke to large groups of pupils in video conferences.

"This was very positive. We were not able to do in the past,” Mr Al Hammadi said.

Despite the quick migration to e-learning, he said Covid-19 showed that more needed to be done.

“We are still not doing enough," he said. "The current foundation is not as strong as we might think.

"According to the International Telecommunication Union [a UN agency], just under half of the world's population is still offline and has no access to digital technologies.

"Children in remote areas have been unable to join online classes during the pandemic."

Schools reopen across the UAE: