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The rise of EdTech amid a pandemic; ephemeral boom or a new era?

The rise of EdTech amid a pandemic; ephemeral boom or a new era?
Technology will help bring the best quality of education to all pupils

By: Amal A. Wahaab

Cairo – Mubasher: The first virtual event of RiseUp Summit, RiseUp from Home, has recently taken place through the online eventtus platform, under the slogan “Got Grit?”

The three-day event was held remotely on 13-15 August in line with the preventive measures against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The event hosted world-class speakers to provide insights on how to cultivate resilience during hardship and overcome the setbacks caused by the pandemic.

Under the theme “The Rise of EdTech in MENA: ephemeral boom or new era?” Hamdi Tabbaa, Co-founder and CEO at Abwaab, and Hatem Sallam, Partner and Chief Growth Officer (CGO) at Almentor, discussed the state of educational technology (EdTech) in the region, the lessons learned from COVID-19, and what they predict the future holds for the sector and learners.

Answering the question of whether the impact of COVID-19 on EdTech is a short-term hike or a long-lasting one, Tabbaa said as though Arabic is a widely-spoken language, there is few reliable content available online and this gap existed long before the coronavirus crisis had hit, which reflects that accessing online resources is peculiar to anyone who is fortunate enough to be a good English speaker.

In an answer to the aforementioned question, he stressed that what the industry is witnessing right now is a catalyst.

For his part, Sallam said there are real problems that have existed prior to COVID-19 and have not been solved until now. One of these is that around 60 millions of children in the K-12 age group do not have access to education for various reasons. Suggesting a way out of this challenge, Sallam ruled out any solution that is not using technology at its core. 

This, among other factors, proves that the transformation brought by the pandemic in the EdTech space is just an acceleration of a big story that has just started, he remarked. 

Speaking of age groups, Tabbaa said that “the learning space is extremely large and no one startup can cover and fulfil the whole thing,” adding that all students in different education segments have witnessed some sort of online learning adoption during the lockdown period.

Yet, according to Tabbaa, learning online will not be a substitute to going to schools, “but going back to not using any online resources to supplement learning in any form is a thing of the past.”

Sallam further clarified, “I believe the whole user experience for learning is changing and the major aspect of change here is the transfer of accountability of learning to the learner himself or herself rather than to the instructor [...] Most of the designs of all processes around learning and development will be human-centric designs rather than teacher-centric or school-centric designs.”

Addressing how can technology enhance the learning process, Tabbaa said that with the power of technology, particularly machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), students will be able to interact with a platform that collects a lot of data about their behaviour and how they learn until they reach a point where they realise that this platform understands them more than a tutor who teaches around 40 students simultaneously in a private centre after school and gives barely any attention to them. 

Besides, technology will serve as an equaliser for those living in the countryside or city and will provide every pupil with the best quality of education.

Q&As

One of the event attendees asked, how do Almentor and Abwaab assure the quality of the teachers chosen to provide the service?  

Almentor’s Sallam revealed that they conduct a very hard background check to the extent that the acceptance rate in the platform is less than 5%, noting that his platform also helps the instructors during the teaching process through various ways.

Tabbaa said the case for Abwaab is quite similar, as they interview hundreds of teachers to select one. Accepted teachers must be academically qualified and up to date with the latest developments. Most importantly, they need to be charismatic and comfortable talking in front of the camera.

Can you talk more about the growth you achieved during the pandemic?

Tabbaa said that Abwaab’s partnership with the government allowed them to teach almost 1.5 million students in a very short period.

At Almentor, the number of learning experiences was doubled in the past six months and the platform received 50,000 learning experiences in a single day.

Moreover, Almentor launched a programme in collaboration with the Egyptian government for the K-12 age group called thanaweya.almentor.net, where it provided half a million final revisions to high school students during the exams period.