Microsoft partnership to 'transform' classrooms in Abu Dhabi

Digital drive aims to improve teacher morale and pupil engagement

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 25 SEPTEMBER 2019. Geoffrey Alphonso, left, CEO Alef Education; and  Sayed Hashish, Microsoft Gulf General Manager, signed a strategic partnership between Alef Education and Microsoft Gulf FZ LLC.

Ministry of Education is working to boost the quality of education at public schools in the UAE. Dubai is getting two new huge government schools which collectively have over 100 laboratories and can take around 7,800 pupils. 

(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Powered by automated translation

The increasing use of technology in the classroom will slash teacher workloads and boost pupil engagement in schools across Abu Dhabi, experts said.

Plans are now in place to accelerate the digital drive after Alef Education, a UAE-based education technology company, joined forces with Microsoft to roll out more hi-tech services to aid learning in government schools across the emirate.

The link-up with the American technology giant was announced at an event held at Alef's headquarters in Abu Dhabi.

Microsoft said it aims to "transform the classroom" environment through the partnership, which sets out to revamp facilities at public schools in the UAE capital.

Augmented reality, which provides an interactive experience of a real-world environment, and virtual reality, which uses computer technology to create a simulated experience, could be introduced in schools as part of the initiative.

"Technology works to make the life of teachers easier as assessments are automated through machine learning, saving teachers' time," said Geoffrey Alphonso, chief executive of Alef Education.

"This saves time in terms of creating lesson plans. Teachers do not have to create videos to engage learners as these are already there."

Mr Alphonso said integrating new technologies into the curriculum also inspires pupils.

"Children are disengaged because they are still learning through traditional methods but we use technology, data and artificial intelligence to help close the learning gap," he said.

Alef Education's technology is already used in about 140 public schools in the emirate.

It was not revealed when the new Microsoft technology will be implemented in schools.

The Alef learning platform digitises the classroom and provides teachers with live feedback so they can help pupils who are struggling.

Sayed Hashish, general manager at Microsoft UAE, said the company will be rolling out new technologies that have not been widely used in schools in the UAE.

"The Microsoft teams will transform the environment in the classrooms to be collaborative. We are also looking at how augmented reality and virtual reality can be used to help pupils," said Mr Hashish.

Pupils use the interactive Alef Education platform at Al Asayel School. Courtesy Alef Education  
Pupils use the interactive Alef Education platform at Al Asayel School. Courtesy Alef Education  

The Tech giant will also be looking for teachers who can be role models to inspire others.

Earlier this year, Federal National Council member, Ayesha bin Samnoh raised the issue of increasingly disenchanted teachers who cannot wait to retire.

Ms Samnoh said more than 1,000 public school teachers have tendered their resignations in the last three years. She said teachers wanted a bigger role in determining how the curriculum is shaped.

"The technology introduced in classrooms is taking away a big load of work from teachers," said Ms Aisah Al Yammahi, who has worked as a public school teacher and principal for more than two decades in the UAE and is now an academic advisor at Alef Education.

"Teachers have told me it saves them time and helps them to assist pupils who are weak.

"We build all the resources for the teachers so they just have to review it and plan how to introduce it to the children.

"Earlier, teachers had to find videos and create videos and worksheets. Now, all of this is ready to use.

Ms Al Yammahi said education technology is working to reduce drop-out rates in public schools.

"Pupils drop out because schools use very traditional ways of teaching which discourage pupils to stay in class. It also encourages bad behaviour and conflict in school as they are disinterested," said Ms Al Yammahi.

"Now pupils do not want to just be lectured. They like being involved in activities."

She said pupils stay in school when they feel they are learning.