A hub for the ultramodern, Dubai is a 21st century city in every sense of the word except one: education. Like the rest of the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA), Dubai is lagging behind global education standards. The MENA region recognizes that education is critically important for its citizens to find success and because of that governments across the region have been assigning over 19 percent of their budgets toward their education infrastructure and programs. Indeed, for native English speakers, teaching jobs in Dubai are highly coveted, well paid positions because of the push to education standards. The space left between bureaucracy, government funding, and tradition leaves entrepreneurs room to create innovative educational startups, and in the MENA region, Dubai is uniquely positioned to do just that.
Thirty years ago, Dubai was hardly a blip on the world radar – an underdog. Now Dubai boosts a craggy skyscraper skyline that hints at the wealth, innovation, and technology that has come to define the city. The Dubai International Airport is home to the Emirates Airline, a state airline that has grown to become one of the world’s best carriers. The airport also supports up to 2,000 flights a day, connecting this Arab city to other tech hubs like Silicon Valley as well as Europe.
The relative lack of online education content in Arabic, Dubai’s love of luxury and technology, and a few innovative entrepreneurs has made Dubai an unlikely heart for educational technology (EdTech) startups. With a shortage of teachers in the MENA region, smart use of technology can help to fill some of the gaps.
Based out of Dubai, 3asafeer is an educational platform dedicated to teaching children by offering free educational content in Arabic. 3asafeer is a dynamic platform that’s available through a web browser as well as through apps on tablets and smart phones. Dubai is not the only city in the MENA region making strides in EdTech platforms, however.
Nafham means “let’s understand” and it’s one of the leading online teaching tools in Arabic. Focusing on K-12, Nafham offers free 5 to 15 minute video lessons covering Egyptian, Saudia, Algerian, and Syrian curriculum. Nafham has also launched an app in addition to its online platform.
The founders of Little Thinking Minds noticed that most television targeted towards young children is produced in the West and Japan and dubbed into Arabic and therefore it seriously lacks Arab culture. Little Thinking Minds is geared toward children that are under seven by offering videos, apps, and games to help them learn lessons in their native tongue with the intent to offer what foreign television cannot.
While teaching jobs in Dubai will remain in demand, EdTech startups are changing the way that schools and parents can approach education as well as making educational online opportunities in Arabic more widespread and accessible than ever before. Often, emerging economies overlook providing an educational pathway for pupils to follow for career planning and there is where EdTech startups can seriously change the way education is approached in MENA countries.