How coronavirus crisis reinvented online learning as a necessity

The coronavirus pandemic has helped everyone to realize the importance of the internet and remote setups. (Annie Spratt/Unsplash)
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Updated 22 August 2020

How coronavirus crisis reinvented online learning as a necessity

  • Pandemic has led to a regional surge in education-technology startups in the Middle East
  • Governments regionwide have launched initiatives to support remote learning and working

CAIRO: In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, 110 million school-aged children stayed at home this term because of school closures, according to UNICEF. The pandemic has led to a regional surge of education technology (edtech) startups filling the gap in place of traditional and workplace settings.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, edtech in the Middle East received only $1.26 million in funding after a record $20 million was invested in the sector in 2019, according to the startup and investor platform Magnitt.

“This is an exciting time for edtech,” said Bassil Khattab, co-founder and chief operating officer of Egypt’s Zedny, a newly launched Arabic learning and development platform.

“We believe that investors will always be interested in any business that solves a big problem online, and education is of major importance to our future.”




L-R: Badr Ward, founder and CEO of Lamsa World - Khadija Elbedweihy, co-founder PraxiLabs - Essam El-Saadi, co-founder PraxiLabs. (Supplied)

Online learning is no longer a buzz word or trend but a necessity that is here to stay.

“The world as we know it has changed, and it is not going back again,” said Khattab. “In the world today, if you are not online, then you will be offline.”

Zedny, which launched in mid-June 2020 with a $1.2 million pre-seed investment, offers Arabic online courses and video summaries of best-sellers, applying artificial intelligence to enhance the user experience.

Lamsa World, an Arabic childhood education platform based in the UAE, is also witnessing an unprecedented shift toward online learning. Since the closure of schools in the UAE, the platform has had at least a 300 percent increase in downloads and content consumption, according to founder and CEO Badr Ward.

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“The pandemic has accelerated what has been in the making for years,” said Ward. “COVID-19 tested the importance of what we’ve been working on and proved that we can look at education differently.

“We need to examine how to deliver education in a more effective and creative way. It’s not a matter of e-learning, it’s a long-awaited innovation toward education.”

While edtech traditionally focused on providing tutoring, content and school management support, it now can be fully integrated into school curriculums.

“Online learning and classroom learning are not mutually exclusive,” Ward said. “We should think about it as a holistic experience where certain aspects are delivered via traditional classrooms and other aspects are delivered online. The goal is to bring the best learning experience.”

Similarly, PraxiLabs, an award-winning online STEM education provider based in Egypt, believes that edtech can complement traditional learning. Focusing on 3D interactive virtual simulations of science experiments, the startup provides students with ample hands-on experience to support in-class learning.

“Our goal is to complement and further enhance students’ experience,” said co-founder Essam El-Saaid.

“While the classroom offers learning that benefits (them), particularly when it comes to character building, teamwork and cooperation, it does not diminish the importance of edtech, specifically when it comes to providing online solutions.

“It’s more of a combined learning approach with enhanced outcomes and massive learning potential for students.”

COVID-19 tested the importance of what we’ve worked on and proved we can look at education differently.

Badr Ward, CEO of Lamsa World, an Arabic childhood education platform based in the UAE

While the shift to online learning was rapid and unplanned, it highlighted the gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds — not everyone has Internet or technology access to take part in digital classes.

Recognizing this challenge, governments across the region launched initiatives to support remote learning and working to deal with the pandemic.

In Egypt, free e-education platforms were provided to students, and the UAE started a campaign to help low-income families unable to afford a laptop, computer or tablet to continue online learning.

According to PraxiLabs, the pandemic offers an opportunity to narrow the digital divide.

“Everyone started realizing the importance of Internet and remote setups, hence the focus is shifting toward (providing) different solutions in that direction, which can already be seen by initiatives not only in Egypt but everywhere,” said Kahdija El Bedweihy, co-founder of PraxiLabs.

Going forward, it is clear that the learning experience is forever changing, and all parts of society need to have access.

“It’s no longer an option,” said Ward of Lamsa World.

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This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Arab coalition commander renews support to Yemen

Updated 29 October 2020

Arab coalition commander renews support to Yemen

  • Assurance comes as the governor of Aden thanked it for helping local security authorities intercept a major cargo of drugs at Aden seaport
  • Yemen’s defense minister said on Wednesday that at least 800 Houthi fighters, including senior field commanders, had been killed since the beginning of this month

AL-MUKALLA: The coalition will continue backing Yemeni military forces fighting the Houthis until the country returns to normal, the commander of Arab coalition forces in the southern city of Aden has said.

During a meeting with Aden’s new governor, Ahmed Lamlis, Brig. Gen. Nayef Al-Otaibi said that the coalition would continue its support till Yemen recovered from the war and its state bodies functioned normally, Yemeni state media said on Wednesday.

The coalition’s assurance comes as the governor of Aden thanked it for helping local security authorities intercept a major cargo of drugs at Aden seaport. The governor told the Arab coalition commander that local authorities in Aden were looking forward to receiving more support from the coalition, enabling them to bring back peace and stability to Aden and fix vital services there.

The Arab coalition and local security authorities at Aden seaport recently announced a 500kg cocaine and heroin bust worth millions of dollars. The drugs were hidden inside sugar bags in a large sugar shipment originating from Brazil. There was no information about arrests in connection with the drugs bust but local security officials said that investigations were underway.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s defense minister said on Wednesday that at least 800 Houthi fighters, including senior field commanders, had been killed since the beginning of this month in fighting with government troops or in Arab coalition airstrikes.

Based on Houthi burial statements carried on their media, the rebels have buried more than 600 fighters, including 154 field leaders, since Oct. 1, in different provinces under their control. In the capital, Sanaa, the rebels have arranged funeral processions for 178 dead fighters, including 67 field commanders with different military rankings, the ministry said in a statement on its news site.

Most of the Houthi deaths occurred in the provinces of Marib and Jouf, where rebel forces are engaging in heavy fighting with government forces and allied tribesmen, backed by Arab coalition warplanes.

State media also quoted the governor of Jouf, Ameen Al-Oukaimi, as saying that government forces had inflicted a huge defeat on the Houthis during the latest intense fighting in the province. Yemeni Army commanders said that they foiled Houthis attempts to recapture the liberated Al-Khanjer military base and surrounding areas in Jouf.

In the western province of Hodeidah, the Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units in the country’s western coast, said that a Houthi field military leader, Mohammed Yahya Al-Hameli, was killed during a foiled rebel assault in the province on Wednesday.

Fighting has continued across Yemen despite repeated calls by the UN and western diplomats for Yemeni factions to halt hostilities and focus on approving the UN-brokered peace initiative known as the Joint Declaration. On Thursday, British Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron called on the internationally recognized President of Yemen Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthis to engage in serious talks to end the war.

“President Hadi and the Houthi leadership must work seriously and urgently with the UN Yemen envoy to end the war in Yemen by concluding the Joint Declaration in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” the ambassador said on Twitter.

The declaration proposes a nationwide truce ahead of the implementation of economic and humanitarian measures. When the fighting stops, the Yemeni parties will be asked to engage in direct talks to discuss postwar political arrangements.