Lahore (Muhammad Yasir) “The Middle East and Africa has reached a key chapter in its education story. Up until now, the conversation around education has revolved primarily around improving the standard of education across the region. But as digital transformation continues to sweep across the globe, there’s a unique window of opportunity to fast-forward to a completely revolutionised era of education.” These thoughts were expressed by Jibran Jamshad, Microsoft Country Education Lead for Pakistan.
He further explained that for years, the general level of education across the region has been improving at a steady pace. “According to the World Bank, the average level of schooling in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) has quadrupled since 1960, with the rate of illiteracy having almost halved. At the same time, statistics tell us that the region has made significant strides when it comes to school enrollment. But despite this progress, the general standard of education across the region still varies significantly, with many countries yet to attain the level of learning to which they aspire”, he added.
Research shows in many cases curriculums favour an approach to education based on rote learning, which means students are not always exposed to 21st century skills, such as working in teams, problem solving and innovation. Skill sets such as these are only going to become more important as automation begins to replace lower-skill jobs. Recent Microsoft research conducted in collaboration with McKinsey & Company’s Education Practice shows that by 2030, the fastest growing occupations will require higher-level cognitive skills in areas such as collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Already as many as 30 to 40 percent of jobs in growth industries require soft skills.
Though the need for social-emotional skills is clear, teachers don’t always feel adequately equipped to teach these skills. And to build crucial cognitive, social and emotional skills, educators need training, technologies and time. Technology can play a critical role in helping to overcome these challenges – AI, in particular, has significant potential to increase the efficiency of education, whether by freeing up educators’ time or helping them develop a more student-centred approach to learning.
Microsoft’s research shows technology can free up as much as 30 percent of teachers’ time, making it easier for them to respond to individual and group needs. And the same study shows students who receive personalised instruction perform better than 98 percent of traditionally taught students. AI-enabled tools are also far more easily accessible than educators might realise. Those found in Microsoft Office 365, for example, are available in programmes such as Word, OneNote and PowerPoint, meaning they are free and easy to use.
Immersive Reader, for example, helps students with learning differences such as Dyslexia build reading confidence. Students can use features like Line Focus, which reduces visual crowding and highlights text to improve readability. On the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, AI can provide educators with greater insight as to how students are progressing so they can adjust their approach, supporting students’ individual needs.
Many schools have improved the academic interaction between students and educators through applications like OneNote and Teams. The tools not only promote better collaboration and productivity, but also enhanced interaction between the students and their teachers. The schools digital transformation has a strong impact on student performance, from day-to-day activities to official exams, completely transforming the entire learning journey. These technologies are particularly effective in breaking down the barriers in communication between students of different abilities. By drawing on AI, these tools can help ensure every student has a voice.
Even simple AI-enabled features like those found in Office 365 can help tertiary-level students with their academic pursuits. PowerPoint Editor, for example, draws on machine learning and natural language processing, enabling students to proof read their content more effectively. The tool even provides helpful suggestions as to how students should refine their style of writing.
This is a promising sign that we are moving in the right direction as incorporating technology in today’s classrooms can help catapult the region’s education sector into the digital era. And ultimately, empowering young people to become successful, capable, and active contributors to the digital economy will create prosperity.