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Education in MENA Countries Goes High Tech

By Jamil Simon | November 13, 2012 | Section: Analysis |

Amazon recently announced a company drive to encourage teachers to use Kindles in the classroom. The move is part of a wider campaign in Western countries to encourage tablet technology as a means to improve students' educational experience, but it comes as similar initiatives have begun to crop up across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Given the state of education in the region, these plans beg the question: is regional education so inconsistent and underdeveloped that high tech solutions are unnecessary luxuries in places thirsting for basics, or are they exactly what is needed to shoot life into a stalled system?

The answer is probably both, depending on where you are. The World Bank released a report in 2008 detailing the diversity of knowledge infrastructure – meaning education, internet infrastructure, media, etc. – across MENA countries, and their conclusions are encouraging for Lebanon, Jordan, and many countries in the Gulf, but much less so for others like Syria and Yemen. Given the political upheaval in the region since the beginning of 2011, it is unlikely that the region has advanced much.

Driving Amazon's decision, however, is a large number of initiatives geared at putting tablets into the classroom. The iPad has a strong fan-base as a teaching aid across the west, and the Institute of Applied Technology in the United Arab Emirates, where the World Bank says education is well developed, has just introduced Steve Jobs' last brainchild to 2000 students in an attempt to “move away from traditional teaching to electronic teaching.” (Source  in Arabic)

Apple claims that the iPad is a boon to education because it allows for more interactive teaching, encouraging students to be creative and hand-on. So-called expert thinking is, in fact, one of the areas in which MENA countries are sometimes lacking in terms of education, according to the report, even though it is increasingly more important in the modern, “knowledge-based” economy.

Yet in Yemen, where education infrastructure is severely limited due to the country's poverty, it is a hard argument to make that what children need most there is an iPad. Unfortunately, places as impoverished as Yemen are in every corner of the Middle East and North Africa, especially in countries without lucrative oil revenues to fund public services.

Still, the idea that technology can improve education in developing countries is taking off fast. For those countries without infrastructure that is ready-made to deal with a technologically advanced classroom, adding tablets into education is a development issue: i.e., how can they use the advanced technology of advanced countries to accelerate the rate of development in more impoverished ones.

The prospect of tablets and tech in the classroom, in any case, is bound to increase as product prices are driven down and the socioeconomic climate of the region turns more towards the global aspirations of an increasingly media-conscious population.

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