An online resource offers Middle East education systems a chance to build back better

Special A cloud-based global resource promises to equip schools in the region with a sustainable educational system. (Shutterstock)
A cloud-based global resource promises to equip schools in the region with a sustainable educational system. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 August 2022

An online resource offers Middle East education systems a chance to build back better

An online resource offers Middle East education systems a chance to build back better
  • Teachers in international schools in the Gulf have struggled amid fee freezes and school closures during the pandemic
  • Financial planning, online learning tools may help schools evaluate curricula, organize staff structure and create long-term plans

DUBAI: Educators across the Middle East and North Africa region are benefiting from a newly launched tool that aims to help them after three years of school-fee freezes and stagnation of education spending owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

UK-based training provider Skills Network launched the Curriculum Led Financial Planning Tool to offer financial planning assistance to international schools throughout the region, which have been particularly hard hit by the fee freeze.

The last permitted fee increase in some Arab Gulf countries was allowed during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority announced in March that international schools would not be allowed to raise tuition fees for 2022, further adding pressure to schools in the UAE’s commercial capital.

Last year, hundreds of private schools in Saudi Arabia also cut their fees by half during the first semester of the new academic year to help mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.




Financial planning is essential if schools are to meet the growing demand for education in the Middle East. (AFP)

Regional schools, especially those with smaller accounting teams, will greatly benefit from the new tools available to them, according to Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah.

“It can help them think about how to save money or streamline costs, opportunities for fundraising and, overall, how to manage the school’s finances more sustainably,” she told Arab News.

The CLFP tool will help MENA schools to cope with a difficult economic environment.

The cloud-based global school resource provides users with 24/7 access from anywhere in the world, eliminating the use of traditional electronic spreadsheets for financial planning.

Developed in partnership with leading school groups in the UK, the tool offers educators a collection of resources, templates and methodologies designed to “support financial planning and manage staffing through efficient and strategic systems,” providing schools with “expert support through challenging financial times.”




The cloud-based global school resource provides users with 24/7 access from anywhere in the world, eliminating the use of traditional electronic spreadsheets for financial planning. (AFP/File Photo)

“There’s a huge demand for financial planning tools in the MENA region, with the quality of education determined by stable finances, so the CLFP is a natural fit,” said Christopher Brown, School and Sixth Forms manager at the Skills Network.

“The international school fee freezes implemented by the KHDA back in March 2022 have pushed budgetary resources to the fore for education leaders in the Middle East, with our CLFP tool holding potential for significant financial improvement for educators in this region.”

The tool offers a range of benefits for educational institutions, including benchmarking finances, detailed workforce planning, which enables institutions to deploy staff efficiently, and curriculum and subject modeling.

Schools will also be able to develop an integrated curriculum planning strategy based on the measurement of current curriculum, staffing structure and finances to create a three-to-five-year plan based on data.

Such a move aims to enable educators to develop the best curriculum for their pupils with the funding they have available.

The pandemic saw schools all over the globe enter a period of financial instability. In the Gulf, between January 2020 and January 2022, more than 40 of the UAE’s international schools opened, but at least another 40 closed. “Equally, enrollment cycles have become less predictable post-pandemic, so this has made financial planning difficult for schools,” Brown told Arab News.




A heavy reliance on private, for-profit education measn that market threats from increasing costs could lead to school closures, according to Natasha Ridge, executive director of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in UAE. (Supplied)

“Although there is optimistic recovery in some MENA countries, there is still much to be done to ensure financial stability and economic growth.

“There are now new pressures to include mandatory teaching hours in Arabic and well-being and sustainability, as well as continued investment in virtual reality and technology. Financial resource and workforce planning will continue to be a top priority for MENA schools in the years to come.”

Established in Yorkshire in 2009, the Skills Network is one of the leading providers of online learning in the UK, having grown into a significant supplier of technology-based learning solutions.

Serving the corporate, public and educational sectors, it claims to create high-quality learning experiences across a wide range of subject areas, with over 1.6 million learners using its learning portal, EQUAL, on a regular basis.

The Skills Network says its online distance-learning courses, staff-training programs and apprenticeship programs have helped businesses such as G4S, Thomson Reuters and the Trades Union Congress reach their training and development goals.

Such tools are vital in today’s world. According to a UN policy brief released in August 2020, the pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to education systems around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries.




Schools will also be able to develop an integrated curriculum planning strategy based on the measurement of current curriculum, staffing structure and finances. (AFP)

In the MENA region alone, the health crisis was responsible for shutting down learning facilities for almost 100 million students aged between 5 and 17.

As a result, governments in the region, such as those of the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have increasingly been promoting a hybrid model of online and in-class education, with the Kingdom opening up its national education portal Ain to more than 6 million users and providing 30,000 devices for students in need at the time.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, the Skills Network says its team of experts is working on developing a more efficient educational system for the region.

Although still in the early stages of rolling its tool out to MENA schools, the team has already taken on board over 100 schools internationally in recent months.

“Over time, we have uncovered a demand from schools looking to identify specific subject and lesson costs across their curriculum,” Brown said.

“We have worked with our existing partners to develop the tool and provide further analytical insight to make targeted change, driven by the quality of teaching with students — providing better learner outcomes.”




Foreign student Amro, a student at the French International Lycée in Riyadh, studied at home on March 23, 2020 as schools in Saudi Arabia closed during COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)

The financial planning tool can be used in countries such as the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In the UK, it has provided average savings of £163,000 ($193,228) per secondary school annually.

“So, it’s a proven and robust asset to any international school across the globe,” Brown said. “Ultimately, students will benefit from an optimized teacher workforce and budget that can support high-quality education delivery.”

According to Ridge, of the Ras Al-Khaimah think tank, the situation is only getting worse for schools as many MENA countries experience high inflation owing to soaring food and fuel prices.

“For schools, this will be difficult, especially in the private sector where parents will also have less money to spend,” she said.

“I believe that the situation requires government support to help schools manage in this difficult time. It could get worse if left to market forces, but some intervention on the part of the government might help.”




Students arrive to school as in-person classes resumed amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Kuwait City in September 2021. (AFP)

She believes lower-income countries will benefit more from the new tools, although all stand to take advantage, and the assistance could not come at a better time.

“Such a heavy reliance on private, for-profit education means that market threats from increasing costs could lead to school closures, especially at the lower end of the market, which would hurt the poorest students,” Ridge said.

The Skills Network’s Brown says international schools in the MENA region are experiencing massive enrollment demand from local students and families. According to him, the international school learner profile has evolved over the years and become more localized than ever before.

Looking to the future, Brown said: “With the ongoing shift in learner profile comes new challenges and pressures on curriculum delivery and financial resources.

“It is of critical importance that schools in the MENA region are equipped with the technology required to meet these evolving needs.”


Lebanon announces first cholera case in almost 30 years

Updated 5 sec ago

Lebanon announces first cholera case in almost 30 years

Lebanon announces first cholera case in almost 30 years
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s health ministry on Thursday announced the crisis-hit country’s first case of cholera in decades.
The announcement comes as neighboring war-torn Syria is struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has spread across the country over the past month.
Lebanon began a downward spiral in late 2019 that has plunged three-quarters of its population into poverty. Rampant power cuts, water shortages, and skyrocketing inflation have deteriorated living conditions for millions.
The Health Ministry said the person infected is from Lebanon’s impoverished predominantly rural northern province of Akkar, which borders Syria, adding that it was the first case of the waterborne disease since 1993.
Caretaker Health Minister Firas Abiad has met with authorities and international organizations following the confirmed case to discuss ways to prevent a possible outbreak.
According to the World Health Organization, a cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, and while most cases are mild to moderate, not treating the illness could lead to death.
Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, told The Associated Press that the organization has been in talks with authorities in Lebanon and other countries bordering Syria to bring in the necessary supplies to respond to possible cases in the country.
“Cross-border spread is a concern, we’re taking significant precautions,” Brennan said. “Protecting the most vulnerable will be absolutely vital.”
Brennan added that vaccines are in short supply relative to global demand.
Impoverished families in Lebanon often ration water, unable to afford private water tanks for drinking and domestic use.
The UN and Syria’s Health Ministry have said the source of the outbreak is likely linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, resulting in food contamination.
Syria’s health services have suffered heavily from its yearslong war, while much of the country is short on supplies to sanitize water.
Syrian health officials as of Wednesday documented at least 594 cases of cholera and 39 deaths. Meanwhile, in the rebel-held northwest of the country, health authorities documented 605 suspected cases, dozens of confirmed cases, and at least one death.

Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest

Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest
Updated 20 min 50 sec ago

Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest

Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest
  • Nasrin Shahkarami also accused the authorities of threatening her to make a forced confession over the death of 16-year-old Nika
  • A crackdown by the security forces on the women-led protests has claimed dozens of lives, according to human rights groups

PARIS: The mother of an Iranian teen who died after joining protests over Mahsa Amini’s death accused the authorities of murdering her, in a video sent Thursday to foreign-based opposition media.
Nasrin Shahkarami also accused the authorities of threatening her to make a forced confession over the death of 16-year-old Nika, who went missing on September 20 after heading out to join an anti-hijab protest in Tehran.
Protests erupted across Iran over the death of Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd, after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
A crackdown by the security forces on the women-led protests has claimed dozens of lives, according to human rights groups.
After Nika Shahkarami’s death, her family had been due to bury her in the western city of Khorramabad on what would have been her 17th birthday, her aunt Atash Shahkarami wrote on social media.
But Persian-language media outside Iran have reported that the girl’s family were not allowed to lay her to rest in her hometown, and that her aunt and uncle were later arrested.
The aunt later appeared on television saying Nika Shahkarami had been “thrown” from a multi-story building.
But her sister said “they forced her to make these confessions and broadcast them,” in the video posted online Thursday by Radio Farda, a US-funded Persian station based in Prague.
“We expected them to say whatever they wanted to exonerate themselves... and they have in fact implicated themselves,” said Nasrin Shahkarami.
“I probably don’t need to try that hard to prove they’re lying... my daughter was killed in the protests on the same day that she disappeared.”
The mother said a forensic report found that she had been “killed on that date, and due to repeated blunt force trauma to the head.
“I saw my daughter’s body myself... The back of her head showed she had suffered a very severe blow as her skull had caved in. That’s how she was killed.”
Nasrin Shahkarami said the authorities had tried to call her several times but she has refused to answer.
“But they have called others, my uncles, others, saying that if Nika’s mother does not come forward and say the things we want, basically confess to the scenario that we want and have created, then we will do this and that, and threatened me.”
Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) on Thursday said it held the Islamic republic responsible for Nika Shahkarami’s death.
“Contradictory claims by the Islamic republic about... Nika Shakarami’s cause of death based on grainy edited footage and her relatives’ forced televised confessions under duress are unacceptable,” it said
IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam called for an independent investigation.
“The evidence points to the government’s role in Nika Shakarami’s murder, unless the opposite is proven by an independent fact-finding mission under the supervision of the United Nations,” he said in a statement.
“Until such a committee is formed, the responsibility for Nika’s murder, like the other victims of the current protests, rests with (Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah) Ali Khamenei and the forces under his command.”


Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law

Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law
Updated 06 October 2022

Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law

Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law
  • Bill submitted by govt seeks to establish fund owned by the authority
  • Facility would help boost canal’s revenue

CAIRO: The Egyptian parliament is expected next week to discuss a new bill submitted by the government to amend the Suez Canal Authority law.

The aim is to establish a fund owned by the authority with an independent legal personality to be headquartered in Ismailia. More offices could be set up in the future elsewhere in the country.

The amendments would enable the fund to contribute to the canal’s economic development through the exploitation of its resources in accordance with international standards, and better deal with crises and emergency situations as they occur.

The changes would grant the authority the right to participate, alone or with others, in establishing companies, investing in securities, buying, selling, renting, exploiting and benefiting from its fixed and movable assets — provided that the authorized capital of the fund is 100 billion Egyptian pounds ($5.09 billion).

The government has said the fund would maximize the canal’s revenues.

The move is significant in light of the challenges facing the Suez Canal facility as a result of weak global economic performance and a decline in international trade rates.

“Issuing such amendments to the Suez Canal Authority law are related to the economic conference that will be held at the end of this month, which may also lead to other economic ideas,” journalist Emad El-Din Hussein told Arab News.

“The successive international developments will impose different and varied challenges on the Egyptian government, especially the repercussions of the global economic crisis and its effects on us in the region,” he said.

Economist Ahmed Sayed Mahmoud said: “I expect a local economic boom, especially with the Egyptian government’s desire to change and amend some laws that would contribute to supporting the national economy, including the amendments to the Suez Canal Authority law.”

He added: “Opening up to all kinds of investment is very beneficial to the economy, whether through acquisitions or pumping investments in new companies and factories.”


At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty

At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty
Updated 06 October 2022

At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty

At least 82 people killed in Iran crackdown in Zahedan since Sept 30: Amnesty
  • Protests in Zahedan were triggered by anger over reported rape of teenage girl by a police commander in the region

PARIS: At least 82 people have been killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province since protests erupted there on September 30, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
In a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on September 30, security forces killed at least 66 people, including children, Amnesty said.
Since then, 16 people have been killed in an ongoing clampdown on protests, it added, warning the real toll is likely to be even higher.
With Iran already convulsed by protests over the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the Tehran morality police, the protests in Zahedan were triggered by anger over the reported rape of a teenage girl by a police commander in the region.
Amnesty said that security forces fired “live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas” at protesters, bystanders and worshippers when a group of people gathered for a protest outside a police station after Friday prayers on September 30 in Zahedan.
“Evidence gathered by Amnesty International shows that the majority of victims were shot in the head, heart, neck and torso, revealing a clear intent to kill or seriously harm.”
It added that the firing had come from the “police station rooftop.” At least three children were killed on September 30, it added.
Iranian officials have characterised the unrest as attacks by “extremists” on police stations that left five members of the Revolutionary Guards dead.
But Amnesty said that beyond “a minority” of protesters throwing stones toward the police station, it had found “no evidence” the conduct of protesters posed a serious threat to security forces.


Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year

Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year
Updated 06 October 2022

Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year

Kuwaiti-funded schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon start their 10th academic year
  • The pupils thanked the authorities and people of Kuwait for their assistance, which is enabling them to continue their education

BEIRUT: The 10th academic year has started at 12 charity-run schools for Syrian refugees in North Lebanon that were established and are funded by Kuwait.
The pupils thanked the Kuwaiti authorities and people for their assistance, which is enabling them to continue their education, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Wednesday.
It came as a delegation that included representatives of the International Islamic Charitable Organization, the Kuwaiti Society for Humanitarian Excellence, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development visited the schools and reviewed their needs.
The news agency said the pupils organized receptions for the delegates, during which they presented various educational activities.
Khalid Al-Subaihi, chairperson of the Society for Humanitarian Excellence, told the agency that the schools cater to more than 9,000 students and are model examples of what charitable work can achieve. He noted that the grades achieved by pupils at the schools are higher on average than those achieved by their peers in mainstream schools in Northern Lebanon.
He also pointed out that the education of students facing dire situations and with great needs, such as refugees, requires much greater effort than teaching youths in normal circumstances.
Hamid Al-Rifai, a board member of the Excellence Society, said: “We realized the difficulties in teaching these refugees and guiding the teachers 10 years ago, when we started to build the schools with contributions from Kuwaiti philanthropists. We solved the problems facing the learning process and developed the teaching techniques to a higher level.”
Atiq Rafiq, director of the education department at UNICEF’s office in Lebanon, thanked Kuwait for the support it provides to refugees, especially in education.
“I am happy to see that these children are receiving education and attending schools,” he said.
Mohammed Al-Jawabra of the Islamic Solidarity Fund said: “Our visit to the schools reveals the strategic work that affects the life of the refugees, and the requirements and needs of the refugee students.”
He thanked charitable associations and organizations in Kuwait for their contributions and said his organization is proud of those who help in the fight against poverty and efforts to provide education.