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School of the Future: How will EdTech impact the education sector in the Middle East?

29 June 2018

Technology has been at the heart of innovation for the last two decades, improving productivity and experience across industries. Over the past few years, the education sector has maintained steady focus on developing technology-driven teaching methods. According to Business Insider, a staggering USD 18.66 billion were invested in education technology, commonly known as EdTech firms driven by demand from schools, colleges and universities become increasingly digitally-focused. And we have certainly seen the importance of EdTech and distanced learning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so it is expected that future funding will continue to drive this market. Report by the World Economic Forum suggests that demand for technology skills will continue to grow by 20% by 2025, creating 2 million jobs over the next 5 years.

a staggering USD 18.66 billion were invested in education technology

World Economic Forum suggests that demand for technology skills will continue to grow by 20% by 2025 Click To Tweet


Increase in Educational Technology (EdTech)


Increase in demand for technological skills


In an increasingly tech-savvy generation, EdTech helps deliver multimedia and interactive coursework to students across devices. The market has witnessed advances in technological demands and innovation, moving towards augmented learning through virtual reality. As the global educational technology market continues to grow, it is expected to reach USD 342 billion by 2025, growing at 11% per annum according to a report released by HolonIQ, a global education market intelligence firm. The US set the pace for the prior five years and now Asia, led by China and India, are experiencing the world’s fastest growth in investment into the Education sector. Furthermore, investments in EdTech companies reached over USD 9.5 billion – the highest figure ever witnessed in the learning technology industry with 813 education technology companies funded in 2017



Global EdTech (education technology) funding


In the global market, Asia is the fastest growing EdTech market in the world and is projected to represent 54% of the global EdTech market by 2020. According to Goldman Sachs research, Chinese EdTech companies rose to USD 1.2 billion – triple the amount that was raised in 2014. The industry is further expected to grow in China, at a rate of 20% annually. In India, the education technology market is set to grow 6 times over the next 4 years, making it worth almost USD 2 billion. Large corporates are taking interest in the market and Chinese gaming giant NetDragon has entered the space in an attempt to “gamify” education. NetDragon acquired educational product providers Promethean World and JumpStart.


Country wise EdTech Funding

Chinese tech giants including Xiami and Baidu have been keen investors in the EdTech market. Similarly, Tencent invested in Yuanfudao – China’s first billion-dollar EdTech start-up. Alibaba Group has also expressed interest in the space, as they invested in start-up TutorGroup in 2015. Metaari research suggests that out of 16 companies that raised over USD 100 million each in the first 10 months of 2017, 7 were in China.


Fastest growing EdTech market

The Middle East education sector

Middle Eastern governments value education as the road to economic development and prosperity. Therefore, they focus on nurturing skilled professionals for the ever-growing markets. Governments across the middle east have been sanctioning almost 19% of their countries’ government expenditure to education- well above global average allotments.


Middle East Government's expenditure on education sector


Technavio forecasts the education sector in the UAE to grow at a CAGR of 4.74% between 2018-2022. Similarly, a research by Ken Research reports that Saudi Arabia’s education industry is expected to augment to about USD 15 billion by 2021, registering a CAGR of 12.3% by 2021.


Education sector growth in the UAE

Expected growth in KSA's education sector

PWC research suggests that the private school sector is expected to be the key driver for the growth of the education market to 2020. Private school joiners are expected to make up 90% of the additional 175,000 seats that are predicted to be required over the next 4 years. As more new schools open, attracting and retaining students becomes a concern for school operators.

The report also predicts that Saudi Arabia will need to accommodate a million new K-12 students by 2020. 150,000 of these students are expected to join private schools. Research finds that private schools have been growing at a rate of 3% per annum, with the strongest growth being in primary levels. The latter has led to a decline in public school primary level enrolment.

The report added that despite further growth expected in the private education sector, the market share for private schools is unlikely to grow from around 11 percent to the aspirational 25 percent unless significant changes are seen to encourage growth and investment in EdTech. The latter is necessary to help create a supply of professionals to meet the growing demand in the region. Globally, educational technology firms raised over USD 8 billion in funding in 2018, with USD 397.6 million invested in India and over USD 1.77 billion in China. In contrast, only USD 1.26 million was invested in three EdTech start-ups in the Middle East, according to research by Magnitt. That’s less than 1% of the total funding for tech start-ups in the region.


EdTech funding in the Middle East

Building School of the Future

1) Bridging communication gap

Research suggests that parents’ involvement in a child’s education helps improve pupils’ school performance. Presently, parental involvement is limited to what the child chooses to share with them and occasional parent-teacher meetings. EdTech start-ups are looking to create interactive platforms to encourage conversation between parents and teachers, allowing frequent conversation and progress updates. UAE-based start-up School Voice has created something of the sort, focused on helping busy parents.

2) Rethinking classrooms

Digital transformation creates a need to rethink traditional classroom design to make it more flexible. This can be done by creating a digital campus with online resources such as digital libraries and online lectures. For instance, Indiana University (IU) in USA launched a collaborative learning initiative titled “Mosaic”.  The Mosaic Initiative supports innovative classroom design, research, and comprehensive support for all IU classrooms. Student spaces are configured for pursuing ideas and creative solutions to real-world problems, with onsite consulting on technologies like virtual reality and 3D printing.

Digital transformation also allows easy, affordable access to information – a phenomenon known as “digital equity”. It allows students to use a laptop, tablet or smartphone to access content online without having to pay for books or having to visit a library.

3) Immersive learning

Virtual reality is quickly becoming a vital component of learning modules. The technology has attracted the attention of education industry’s thought leaders and an enormous amount of creativity and energy is already directed at bringing VR to the classroom. Analysts forecast the Global Virtual Reality Market in Education Sector to grow at a CAGR of 59.14% between 2018-2022. For instance, a virtual reality app called Anatomy 4D which allows biology students to study the human body in 4D was recently launched, while artificial intelligence is already playing a role in learning analytics. Recently, a robot from Cornell University – PR2 – learnt various tasks which it then taught to another robot at Brown University in the United States.


Global virtual reality market in the education sector


A tech start-up 3D4 Medical is working on a mixed reality project that will allow students to interact with human anatomy, by transforming a flat surface into a 3D model using iPads. Their anatomical models are the most detailed available on consumer devices, which they build by studying real anatomical structures, and combining them with world-class medical knowledge.

Microsoft’s HoloLens (a mixed reality holographic computer) has partnered with Case Western Reserve University to release an app called HoloAnatomy allowing students to learn about human anatomy in detail through holographic immersion in mixed reality. HoloAnatomy is preparing the next generation of doctors using immersive training methods.

4) AI backed learning

Artificial intelligence is expected to play a critical role in digital transformation of the education industry. It is predicted that the use of classroom AI may increase by 47.5% from 2017 to 2021.


AI in education


AI is currently at the early phases of classroom adoption. However, teachers are working towards using AI to build individualised approaches for students. Smart content program including Cram101 and JustTheFacts101, for instance, use AI to make easy-to-use study guides based on complex textbooks. These programs are expected to grow and eventually create personalised study materials based on a student’s weaknesses.

Similarly, intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) use student performance data to create customised lesson plans. For example, Carnegie Learning’s software “Mika” provides tutoring and feedback. It is expected to take the place of remedial courses. Another example is Carnegie Mellon University’s iTalk2Learn which monitors students’ emotional state and cognitive state while learning mathematics.

AI is not only transforming the student’s experience in the classrooms but is also improving teaching methodology for teachers. EdTech firm Netex Learning lets teachers design curriculums across a variety of digital platforms and devices. The site helps even the most technologically illiterate educators incorporate interactive elements like audio, video, and self-assessments to their digital lesson plans, all within a personalized learning cloud platform. With Netex, teachers can create customized student materials to be published on any digital platform while providing tools for video conferences, digital discussions, personalized assignments, and learning analytics that show visual representations of each student’s personal growth

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