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.”


Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
Updated 07 December 2022

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
  • ‘Freedom trampled under pretext of protecting security,’ says Mohammad Khatami
  • Former leader calls on regime to meet protesters’ demands ‘before it is too late’

LONDON: Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami has praised anti-regime protests and urged authorities to meet protesters’ demands “before it is too late,” the BBC reported.

The two-term reformist president, who served between 1997 and 2005, described “woman, life, freedom” as a “beautiful slogan,” and said that it showed Iranian society was moving toward a better future.

Khatami also criticized the security forces’ crackdown and arrest of students.

“It should not be allowed that freedom and security are placed in opposition to one another, and that as a result freedom is trampled under the pretext of maintaining security, or that security is ignored in the name of freedom,” he said.

“I advise officials to appreciate this presence and instead of dealing with it unjustly, extend a helping hand to them and, with their help, recognize the wrong aspects of governance and move toward good governance before it is too late.”

Khatami’s comments came in a statement to mark Student Day on Wednesday, with students having been at the forefront of the wave of protests that are now into their fourth month.

Protests were sparked by the September murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

Her death ignited pent-up frustrations over falling living standards, and discrimination against women and minorities.

Protests have spread to more than 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 of Iran’s provinces, and are now considered the most serious challenge to the regime since it took power in the 1979 revolution.

Iran’s leadership has sought to portray the protests as “riots” instigated by “foreign enemies.”

Despite the brutal crackdown by security forces, which have led to the deaths of 473 protesters and the detention of more than 18,000 people, demonstrations show little sign of abating, with Khatami describing student involvement as “perhaps unprecedented.”

Iran’s judiciary also sentenced five protesters to death on charges of “corruption of the Earth” on Tuesday, with 11 others, including three children” handed long prison sentences.

Director of Iran Human Rights Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told AFP News: “These people are sentenced after unfair processes and without due process. The aim is to spread fear and make people stop protesting.”

A total of 11 protesters have now been sentenced to death, with the country’s judiciary chief saying on Monday that executions will be carried out “soon.”


Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
Updated 07 December 2022

Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
  • Over 500 people killed, says rights body
  • ‘Crackdown led by President Ebrahim Raisa’

LONDON: Iranian authorities have executed more than 500 people this year, according to data released by Iran Human Rights.

Up more than 50 percent on 2021’s figure of 333, the spike in executions marks a dramatic shift following years of decline, with numbers only likely to climb amidst the government’s brutal response to protests in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

Five further death sentences were handed out to protesters yesterday, for killing a member of the security forces, bringing to 11 the total number arising from the protests.

Meanwhile nine people have been charged over the killing of Iran’s nuclear weapons chief, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020. Israel’s security agency, Mossad, has been blamed for Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Newly elected president and former prosecutor, Ebrahim Raisi, played a central role in the 1980s killing spree that resulted in the execution of thousands of opposition supporters.

His election last year, combined with the surging number of death sentences, are considered reflective of the increasing dominance of hardliners over Iranian politics.


New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
Updated 07 December 2022

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
  • Initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks

DUBAI: The UAE’s moon rover is set to blast off “no earlier than Dec. 11” after a series of tests were conducted on the SpaceX rocket.

In a statement, ispace inc., the Japanese firm that built HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander carrying the UAE’s Rashid rover, said the initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks on the rocket.

The Emirati-made Rashid rover will launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, US, at 7:38 a.m. GMT on Dec. 11, embarking on a five-month journey to the moon in the Arab world’s first lunar mission.

 

 

“ispace’s Mission 1 lunar lander was integrated into the SpaceX Falcon 9 fairing and battery charging operations for the lander will continue,” said the firm.

“No issues with the lander itself have been identified. As of today, no major operational changes are planned, with lunar landing scheduled for the end of April 2023.”

If the rover lands successfully, the UAE will be the fourth country to reach the moon.


Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
Updated 07 December 2022

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
  • Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters

DUBAI: Abdul Rahman Abdul Shakour, Somalia’s special envoy for the President for Humanitarian Affairs and Drought, praised the UAE on Wednesday for its relief efforts in the drought-stricken country. 
“The UAE is a pioneer in providing the necessary support to Somalia in this crisis, as it was the first country to respond to the appeal launched by the Somali government to provide urgent relief to those affected by drought,” said Abdul Shakour.
He noted that the UAE fulfilled the needs of approximately 2.5 million people after it airlifted supplies and sent a ship carrying more than 1,000 tons of food and relief items to Somalia. 
Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters, which was jointly sponsored by the Arab League and United Nations.
The conference included several of senior officials from Arab philanthropic organizations and UN humanitarian bodies that aim to coordinate actions plans that will help address the worsening food situation in the African nation.


UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense
Updated 07 December 2022

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum met with Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense during his official visit to the country.

The leaders discussed bilateral ties and areas of potential cooperation with Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob in two separate meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reported state news agency (WAM).

They also reviewed issues of mutual interest.