CAIRO: Saudi Arabia is building a solid foundation for the education technology industry, also known as edtech, to nurture the online learning space in transforming its young population into an intelligent workforce.
In its recent report, UNESCO praised the Kingdom for adopting and implementing its online training programs during the universal pandemic, raising its stature in the global teaching community.
The edtech sector is becoming noticeable as the nation transitions from an oil-based economy to a diversified one that will require skilled talent bolstered by knowledge to ensure the success of Vision 2030.
One of the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 is to enhance the sustainability of education by developing comprehensive frameworks for flexible learning.
Salem Ghanem, founder and CEO at Faheem, a leading edtech startup in the Kingdom, told Arab News that the privatization of the education sector will significantly impact the Saudi economy in line with Vision 2030.
“The edtech space in Saudi Arabia is treasured with opportunities for startups, with a huge number of customers and a strong purchasing power. However, it is extremely underserved in many aspects,” he added.
According to Majid Mneymneh, vice president of higher education at Pearson Middle East, the Kingdom is working closely with the private sector to ensure higher education outcomes align with the job market requirements.
“In addition, the rise in online learning adoption and acceptance will play an important role in seeking to upskill and prepare the young workforce,” Mneymneh added.
Preparing for the future
Although the transition to online during COVID-19 was perceived as a threat to on-ground education entities, Mneymneh explains that the shift has proven acceptance and benefits of hybrid learning for all the stakeholders.
“Particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the shift to virtual learning overall has been well managed and received by students and educators for all age groups. Demands for blended learning, professional upskilling programs, remote assessments, teacher training and more have been on the rise,” Mneymneh explained.
Mneymneh also stated that according to the Global Learner Survey 2020 by Pearson, 88 percent of learners globally agree that online learning is a permanent part of their education and will lead to a better experience in the future.
“Higher education learners show much greater acceptability toward digital platforms, and there is a growing focus on gaining new skills which have become critical in the current environment. Students prefer practical learning experience through vocational training,” pointed out Mneymneh.
The Kingdom has seen a considerable surge of tech-focused entrepreneurs establishing businesses in fintech, edtech and healthtech industries. “With the ease of regulation, the Kingdom witnessed new startups in healthcare, financial services and education, few industries that were inaccessible and tech-resistant until recently. E-learning, in particular, is witnessing significant growth in Saudi Arabia,” Mneymneh said.
He believes startups will fill up the edtech space in the Kingdom as entrepreneurial talent is one of the critical solutions to boost the sector’s growth with vast opportunities still available.
“Some challenges persist with the larger one is access to talent as the highly skilled local talent is scarce and it remains difficult to hire expats at large scale,” he said.
Another challenge to online learning is the lack of recognition and accreditation for online degrees and courses across all stages of education, from schools to universities and adult training.
“Hopefully, the government will follow the rest of the world in recognizing online learning and considering it as a support mechanism to the existing education ecosystem,” Mneymneh said.
The Kingdom has seen venture capital investments into edtech startups increase as three of the Middle East and North Africa region’s top 10 most funded edtech startups are from Saudi Arabia.
Ghanem explained that the startup ecosystem in the Kingdom is expanding and broadening, making it an excellent environment to start a business.
“The edtech field is still relatively new and facing adoption challenges and fighting misconceptions about online learning,” Ghanem added.
Ghanem stated that a prevailing misconception is that online learning is an alternative to on-ground. Instead, e-learning is an enabler for enhancing traditional education methods. Large corporations are also playing a massive role in implementing edtech and online learning into the traditional learning system to provide students with a digital experience to complement their educational goals.
“In today’s world, setting students up for future success means exposing them to various disciplines holistically to develop their critical thinking, interpersonal and reasoning skills, business acumen and good data analysis skills,” Mneymneh stated.
He added that the company’s goals are set to enter the new digital era focusing on addressing the workforce skills gap and meeting the growing demand for accreditation and certification in the Kingdom. “These are exciting times and the long-term impact seems to be on a positive edge, resulting in new and innovative ways of learning, bridging the digital divide and acting as a catalyst for innovation and digitization in education systems around the globe,” Mneymneh said.