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Education gets ‘smarter’


Tech solutions can help enhance workforce development while still respecting traditional education models

February 20, 2014 10:29 by

While employers complain that educational institutions are not providing their students with skills for the workplace, educators argue that they are not training shops and are in the business of developing minds. However, with the Expo 2020 looming ahead, it’s become increasingly important for these two sides to come together to create “smarter communities” in order to meet market demands.

With the changing nature of the education sector and its move towards adopting smarter solutions, it becomes much easier to create this dialogue, says Mathew Boice, vice-president at Ellucian EMEA and India – a technology solution provider that caters to the education industry. “Institutions are much more active in their use of information [now] and it’s interesting [how this has changed] how the institution interacts with the rest of the economy and within the context of what’s going on at the national level,” he adds.


An evolving model

According to Boice, institutions have changed their approach of interacting with students to cater to the needs of their tech-savvy customer base. “The passive way of just pushing information out to people isn’t going to cut it anymore. [For students] it is: ‘Are you just going to tell me the grade or are you going to provide me with something where I can understand the grade?’ It’s a much more proactive use of information and communication.”
He explains that in a smarter context, it is possible for students to become more aware of technical competencies related to their sector, while still operating within the traditional educational model. “Even employers who are worried about skills and competencies recognise that having the right type of mind and attitude is very important.” Boice points out Al Ain University as an example of where a crossover is occurring at the institution level, particularly a pilot project that got students interested in the telecom market, which was run in parallel to the curriculum. The university moderated and facilitated the group with a facility member that had the most relevant experience.


On the curriculum side, students were bringing in examples of real-life case studies to class based on what they touched upon in the discussion group. Boice says the university has plans to take another step by providing controlled access for companies to get involved.

He adds that there are many benefits from incorporating something such as this alongside traditional education from the student perspective. “They believe it will shorten time after graduation to find employment, improve the quality of CVs and increase motivation because [the students] are starting to see a relevance to what they are doing.”


Changing with the times

With the UAE’s focus on building a knowledge-based economy, the country has taken measures to ensure that it stays up-to-date with the latest technological developments. In 2012, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, rolled out a AED1 billion initiative to create ‘smart classrooms’ in all schools, equipping students with tablet PCs and high-speed 4G networks.

In the area of higher education, institutions have found that they need to change the way they provide services for their students, focusing on a range of platforms, especially mobile.

Boice says that the demand for tailored mobile platforms is significant, explaining that after Ellucian changed its platform in April last year, hundreds of institutions signed up. While current services include taking existing student management systems onto the mobile platform, the next phase is looking at facilitating processes, such as registration, which is problematic at most universities. Universities have also used the platform to develop apps that can help students find available parking spots and when their buses will arrive.

However, the advancements don’t stop at mobile. There is a whole spectrum of ways that institutions are adopting technology into their curriculum. Institutions like Hamdan bin Mohammed e-University, offer a range of courses that are completely online. Meanwhile, traditional campus-based colleges are in the process of exploring how they can use technology to further the experience of their students.


Moving into a new eco-system

As institutions understand where technology fits into their curriculum, one area that needs to be addressed is Big Data, says Boice. According to him, institutions are often at a loss as to what to do with the information they can collect as a result of the new applications they are using. “People don’t know what to do with that at all – what’s relevant and how they should use it. If we’re not using technology to drive those insights, we’re going to be lost.” The information, however, is useful to help universities understand what works, with students and parents.

There is also a need for IT professionals who have an understanding of what is required by the sector, adds Boice. He explains that Ellucian is in talks with the Centre of Excellence for Applied Research & Training to develop a training programme to help develop the skills needed in order to take advantage of these new technologies. “It’s about bringing the smart components together,” he adds.






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