Education systems across the world are witnessing unprecedented transformations. This year’s Education World Forum highlighted the importance of managing education reform, and participating governments affirmed their will to improve schools and adopt new solutions. Alef Education, a UAE-based technology-enabled education solution powered with artificial intelligence, is designed to transform education from the traditional teacher-centered model to the student-centered model which is self-paced, self-directed and interest-based. Following the success of Alef Education’s implementation at the Al Asayel Abu Dhabi public school in 2017, the company has just signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education in the UAE to implement Alef’s education system in ten Abu Dhabi public schools. InBusiness.ae speaks to Geoffrey Alphonso, CEO, Alef Education, about the new learning journey they are introducing to schools and how they are revolutionizing children’s education.
How do you assess the development of smart education in the Middle East when compared to other regions?
Although the Middle East has seen a growing interest in education technology solutions, the region still lags far behind North America and Western Europe in terms of the utilization of education technology in the classroom. In the United States alone the education technology market is worth over US$33 billion, while the entire Middle East is valued around only half of a billion. Alef Education is changing that. We are an Abu Dhabi based technology company so we have a deep understanding of the local conditions in the Middle East, which is another reason why we are so well positioned to succeed in technology-enabled education in the Middle East.
Tell us about Alef Education’s mission in empowering education and your partnership with HCZ and Geoffrey Canada?
Alef Education’s mission is to leverage technology to provide students with the personalized education they need to succeed, while also empowering teachers with real time, actionable data. Through our partnership with Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, we are proudly bringing this mission to students and teachers in Harlem, New York City this fall. Geoffrey Canada is a legendary leader in United States education reform and we are very excited to be working with him. Geoffrey Canada’s endorsement of our approach should speak volumes about our capabilities and future potential to impact education globally.
How is Alef Education contributing to the transformation of the UAE’s education sector?
Alef Education is building an education technology ecosystem that is leading the way in modernizing the UAE K-12 education sector. As an industry leader in the use of artificial intelligence, adaptive algorithms, and data mining, Alef Education is providing an advanced solution that has the potential to fundamentally change the way teachers, students, and parents view education here in the UAE and around the world. We are touching most of the contributing factors which eventually have a positive impact of student learning outcomes, from modern digital content to change management at the school sites.
What are the main additions to the curriculums that impact the schools that are embracing Alef’s solutions?
The additions to our digital curriculum that have been most impactful for our students and teachers (and that we are most excited about) are the presence of adaptable, personalized content for each student and the accessibility of real-time data for teachers. Alef’s smart platform identifies the needs of each individual student, providing extra practice in areas where students are struggling, while simultaneously providing content for students who need a challenge. This, coupled with our platform’s ability to capture, synthesize, and deliver real-time data on each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall progress, has allowed teachers to meet their students’ individual needs like never before. Additionally, we are using various forms of experiential learning to enhance the interest and engagement of the students in the classroom.
Your vision is to go global and impact many students; how close / far are you from achieving this goal?
Alef Education has already seen tremendous growth over the past year. We started with just a few hundred students in one school here in Abu Dhabi last year, to over 6,000 students in over 10 schools across two continents this coming academic year. Of course, we know we still have a long way to go, but we believe that with our stellar team and collective drive and experience, we are capable of growing exponentially.
What are the main challenges that you are encountering, specifically in this region?
The main challenge that we are encountering in this region is the relative unfamiliarity when it comes to the use of technology in classrooms. The vast majority of classrooms in the Middle East still function in a traditional model, with technology having a limited role in day-to-day instruction. Although there has been some initial push back from teachers who have never used technology in their classrooms before, many resistant teachers have become the greatest advocates of Alef as a solution, this is sowing the seeds of real change in the classroom learning environment.
In your opinion, should access to smart education become a given in developed countries?
Absolutely, we believe that smart education is the future of education and should be leveraged to provide every student with a learning journey suited to their needs.
What do you foresee for the future of education in the Middle East in general, and the UAE in particular?
In the future, education will be totally transformed in the UAE and the Middle East. Technology has the potential to drive a new and immersive learning experience that unleashes the intrinsic motivation to learn. Traditional norms in terms of bell schedules and students studying in cohorts will be transformed into a learning environment where students can learn at their own pace and at anytime and anywhere. As we unleash the power of artificial intelligence and hypermedia technology, I picture more virtual classrooms, optimized classroom sizes and teachers who truly embrace the role of facilitators to support students to learn at levels that are fit for their individualized pace.