An online programme kept pupils engaged and helped track their progress during home learning in the summer, teachers and principals in Abu Dhabi said.
Alef Education, a digital platform, was introduced in one school in Abu Dhabi three years ago. Today, it is used by more than 120,000 pupils in 400 schools in the UAE and three institutes in the US and Canada.
Teachers said its biggest benefits were felt during remote learning over the past eight months.
"It's not just a programme or platform any more, it's an experience that motivates the teacher and the learner," Sameera Al Hosani, principal of Al Shawamekh School, told The National.
“Earlier, it was a supportive resource but now it’s our main path, it’s our whole curriculum. With the pandemic, it became a must for everyone and the only way to access learning.
“When new teachers joined during the beginning of the pandemic, we were able to finish their training online very swiftly.”
The platform features in Unesco’s list of education resources available to anyone across the world.
Expo 2020 Dubai too placed the group among a select 20 solutions that can solve big global challenges.
The online programme uses videos and interactive graphics to cover the UAE Ministry of Education's curriculum in mathematics, science, English and Arabic languages, social and Islamic studies for pupils from grades 5 to 11 with plans to expand to Grade 12 next year.
The sequence of lessons is directly aligned with the public school curriculum and pupils are tested after each chapter with quick games and quizzes.
Ms Al Hosani said interesting online content kept pupils engaged and keen to move on to the next stage.
“It has encouraged responsibility because a learner does not want to be left behind. They want to finish what the teacher has set for them today so they can start a new lesson tomorrow,” she said.
Some pupils have come up with their own ideas.
A Grade 9 pupil sent Ms Al Hosani suggestions on virtual experiments that Alef could use in future upgrades.
“Her recommendations were to improve the science experiments and shows how involved the pupils are in the process,” Ms Al Hosani said.
Geoffrey Alphonso, chief executive of Alef Education, said the group aimed for pupils to take learning into their own hands.
The company is exploring adding new subjects such as Arabic and Chinese for non-native speakers, artificial intelligence, coding and technical courses.
“As an organisation, we are very committed to growth outside of traditional curriculum subjects and learning,” he said.
“The platform is used every day for instruction and it has created a streamlined way for pupils to learn across all of their core curriculum subjects.”
The platform has been a huge support for the teaching community overstretched during the pandemic.
Teachers said instead of spending time on research, shooting and uploading videos, they could focus on pupils since a large spread of strong visual content was already available in the programme.
Teachers had generally struggled to hold the attention of pupils during long online sessions, so the Alef initiative had come in very handy.
“This makes it easier for teachers because it saves time and effort,” said Fatma Al Ali, vice principal of Al Shahama School.
“It gives teachers time to focus on the children and how they understand the subjects.”
The data monitors how much pupils actually learn, how teachers use the platform and helps them to compare a child’s progress across subjects.
Ms Al Ali said she could track low-achieving pupils who need additional guidance and high achievers who require more challenges.
“I can still see their progress and take action even if my pupils are not in front of me,” she said.
“I can communicate to a teacher to understand why a pupil is not accessing her lesson and that might reveal more issues to discuss later.
“It gives us instant results. If a pupil is good in maths but not in science, I can see she is not a low achiever in all subjects but needs support in some subjects."
Quick explanatory animations made learning easier for pupils not comfortable with English.
“Biology can be overwhelming because of the many scientific terms for the digestive or respiratory system that are new for children,” Ms Al Ali said.
“Explanations in a dictionary with pictures makes learning easier. In geology and geography, pictures of the Earth enrich their imagination.”
During the pandemic, the platform offered several products free under a Learning for All initiative and can be accessed from its website at learning4all.alefed.com
People anywhere in the world can log on to its content in Unesco's learning tools: unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse.