Sample Education Paper
Title: Information technology in education in the UAE
This paper explores the social and environmental impact of technology use in educational settings in the UAE. Emphasis is on how technology is aligned with values and beliefs of the UAE in order to provide the appropriate context for integration. The current status of technology integration is explored as well as the role of teachers in aligning technology use with the society’s value systems. From this analysis, the appropriateness of technology adoption in the country’s education system is evaluated.
The findings indicate that there is scanty literature on technology use in school settings in the UAE, particularly with regard to social values and belief systems. Moreover, there is a lack of cooperation between schools and the ministry of education in providing the appropriate social context for aligning technology use with the conservative social systems of the people of the UAE. In the absence of such cooperation, schools face the risk of facing the problem of dealing with learners who have been brainwashed by foreign social practices through information technology particularly the internet, to the extent of not being fully aware of their own social values and practices,
Technology is a body of scientific knowledge that is applied for use in practical purposes for example in education and industry. Information technology is one of the technologies that are being used all aspects of life in most parts of the world today. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) technology is now a core component of the country’s education system. Technology has been in use in the country’s educational settings for many decades. All this time, the aim has been to improve efficiency in the teaching profession as well as to enable learners understand different concepts in addition to appreciating the technological world around them.
In efforts to integrate technology into UAE’s educational settings, a key challenge has been on aligning this technology with all the country’s values and beliefs. Moreover, much attention has been directed to the social and environmental impact of technology use in educational settings across the country. This paper evaluates how technology is being used educational settings across in the UAE as well as the efforts being made to align this practice with the country’s values and beliefs. The social and environmental impact of technology use in these contexts is also discussed.
The conventional assumption in the contemporary world is that technology brings about numerous benefits to the performance of students. In the UAE, this importance has been acknowledged by various stakeholders, including teachers and the government. The UAE government has already launched several formal initiatives for supporting reform in the country’s education sector as well as the introduction of technology in the country’s K-12 classrooms.
In the UAE, like in many other parts of the world, teachers are the key stakeholders and greatly determine the success of technology integration efforts. In this regard, expectations are normally high across the country that teachers are aware of the challenges as well as ethical aspects that rise when technology is being used for teaching. A lot of emphasis is on dealing with such ethical concerns, particularly in a country that is as conservative as the UAE.
The role of the government in technology integration in the UAE has been widely acknowledged across the country. A major indicator that the effort of introducing computer technologies in the country will succeed is the fact that the UAE government provides free education to all its citizens from the K-12 system to university. Other than the government, various non-governmental organizations have working to help integrate Information and communication technology (ICT) into the country’s education system.
However, most of the attention goes to public sector entities, since they are the ones that leave the biggest mark in the UAE’s educational settings as far as integration of technology is concerned (Forawi, 2010). For the underlying aim of these government initiatives is to transform the UAE into an information-based society. For the most part, the initiatives are being directed towards the K-12 education system, high colleges that are technology-oriented as far as their curriculum is concerned, and universities.
In one such initiative, which was launched in September 2006 in Abu Dhabi, the UAE government sought to enter into partnerships with private educational companies with international operations with the aim of improving the adoption of technology in the country’s schools. Some of the companies that have already entered into a partnership with the government include The Center for British Teachers for Education (CfBT), North Anglia, Mosaica, and Intered/Sabis (Clarke, 2006).
One of the project requirements for the companies that seek to enter into partnerships with the UAE government is the introduction of ICT. Moreover, all the students, teachers, and administrators participating in such projects have to be taken through ICT training. In the 2006 initiative, the ICT programs were first introduced in the K-5 grade before being rolled out in middle-school grades in early 2007. A year later, the technology training was extended to grades 10-12. This shows the extent to which the UAE government is willing to go to ensure that technology is adopted in the country’s educational settings.
However, many challenges still exist as far as technology adoption in schools in the UAE is concerned. For instance, an inspection body for technology adoption is yet to be established. Such a body would perform the work of checking whether all students, teachers, and administrators are doing their best in integrating ICT in all their activities. The farthest that the government has gone is the introduction of specialized surveys whose mandate does not go beyond the assessment of specific projects. For example, the Teacher Satisfaction Survey was launched by the government to assess the level of teachers’ satisfaction with the activities being undertaken in the CfBT project as well as to identify areas that required improvements (Clarke, 2006).
Although the government has not formed a body for overseeing technology integration in educational settings across the country, it has not put in place a comprehensive strategy for the fast-emerging information society. Nevertheless, advance strategies are already in place for ensuring that there is implementation at the local level, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Teachers play a critical role in ensuring that technology is fully adopted in educational settings. Moreover, it is their role to ensure that technology is used in a manner that is not in conflict with values and values of the people of the EAE. In ideal situations, teachers focus a great deal on ensuring that technology use has a positive social and environmental impact on learners. However, in the UAE, like in many other countries, this is a difficult undertaking for various reasons.
The main reason for this difficulty has to do with the perceptions that many UAE teachers have towards technology. During the onset of the information age, particularly the late 1980s and early 1990s, teachers in the UAE had a largely negative perception towards the integration of computer technology in the country’s K-12 schools (Bebell, 2009). This was largely because technology phobia, which was occasioned by lack of computer to practical environments where information and communication technology was in use. However, as computer technology became increasingly available even to older members of the teaching profession, the perception has changed a great deal. By the turn of the century, majority of UAE K-12 exhibited a high self-perception as far as their competencies abilities with regard to the successful integration of technology in all their teaching activities.
However, the degree of effectiveness in the adoption of technology in the classroom is not the same for all UAE teachers. These differences manifest themselves despite the fact that the barriers they encounter in the process of technology integration are virtually the same. Some of these barriers include technical problems, high student populations, lack of financial support and motivation, lack of training and professional development, as well as negative parent and teacher attitudes towards the usefulness of technology on learning and teaching. In many cases, the negative attitude is largely caused by the concern that the country’s values and beliefs are being eroded through the use of technology, particularly the internet. They express the fear that the internet brings about a social and environmental impact that is alien to the highly conservative UAE society.
In efforts to increase effectiveness in technological integration, there is a need for the suggestions of teachers to be put into consideration (Almekhlafi, 2010). It is true that information technology may have a negative impact on the social behavior of learners. Learners may obtain sexually explicit content on the internet, which may influence them to behave in ways that are unacceptable to the UAE society. In such situations, it becomes necessary for guidance to be provided to all learners in the identification which technology resources are appropriate for their learning processes and which ones are not.
In the bigger picture, policymakers in the UAE have a responsibility to ensure successful integration of technology into the curriculum (Almekhlafi, 2010). Such integration should be done in a manner that facilitates the inculcation of appropriate social and environmental impacts. This entails aligning various technology materials to the needs of UAE learners as far as their values and beliefs are concerned. To achieve these goals, the government has been putting in place measures of ensuring that regular workshops are held to create opportunities for professional development for teachers. The government projects that such workshops create the right environments for teachers to discuss various challenges influencing technology integration and seek amicable solutions.
There are other measures that are deemed necessary by UAE teachers in efforts to increase learning outcomes through technology adoption. One of such measures is the use of technology-enhanced materials such as videos and CDs in the curriculum. Another crucial undertaking entails increasing collaboration between various schools. Moreover, there is a lot of emphasis on giving teachers the freedom that they need in selecting curriculum materials and determining which areas of technology to cover and which ones not to.
UAE teachers also hail the efforts of the governments to inaugurate model schools where efforts are made to try and experiment on the aspects of technology that need to be incorporated into the education system. Since their inauguration more than a decade ago, the model schools had numerous advantages over typical schools. These advantages were inherent particularly in terms of infrastructure and activities relating to professional development for teachers. It is the success that was achieved in these schools that triggered a trend towards following their path by most public schools across the country. This trend has caused a situation where differences between public schools and model schools have virtually vanished as far as teacher professional development and availability of technology is concerned.
The models have proved that by enhancing the skills and competencies of teachers, it is possible for their negative attitude towards technology to be changed. A major setback, though, arises because of lack of fully functional technology, particularly hardware and software (Abu-Samaha, 2008). Frequent hardware and software failures easily discourage teachers from adopting, particularly when they occur in the middle of a lesson and no technician is at hand to address the problem. To counteract this negative impact on technology, most teachers in the UAE are often on the lookout for incentives for using technology in the classroom.
A major concern among those who advocate for complete technology integration into UAE classrooms is extent to which administrators and teachers in all schools are able to align this technology with the country’s values, beliefs, and social environment. The information age has come with new trends in computer, with the internet bringing connectivity to all breeds of users from all over the world. This means that children sitting in a classroom in the UAE where the Arab culture predominates are able to communicate instantly with their counterparts in a country like the USA, where the Western culture predominates. In such a context, the children of either culture would definitely be influenced to a certain extent by the culture of their counterparts on the other side of the world (Selinger, 2004). Such influence may be frowned upon by the parents of the children, and this is where the main problem arises.
Whenever UAE children appear to be embracing the Western culture because of the influence of technology use in school settings, their conservative parents develop a negative attitude towards technology. To avoid such a scenario, children require guidance from teachers. They need to be taught to appreciate differences in culture, beliefs, and values but not to emulate them blindly. In other words, the children need to be inducted into the world of information age, where one is able to get information about anything and get potential sources of influences from all manner of sources, all at the touch of a computer keyboard or a mouse button.
It is unfortunate that most educational institutions in the UAE have not put in place the changes that are necessary to ensure that learners are not vulnerable to social values, cultures, and belief systems that are alien to the Arab culture. However, all is not lost; many schools across the country are in the process of developing new skills and capabilities through restructuring, reorganization, and reallocation of technology resources in order to bring about successful transformation. Successful transformation in this case is not just about regurgitating the various uses of technology and putting them in practice; it also entails successful alignment of technology with the learners’ social environment as well as values and beliefs.
At the present moment, there is too much preoccupation with efforts to align management vision and the successful realization of numerous policies relating to hardware, software, the internet, and the multimedia environment (Aldhafeeri, 2006). In such a situation, there is little focus on teacher training, which is the most appropriate realm for issues of values, beliefs, and social environment to be addressed. Similarly, little attention is being directed towards pedagogical aspects technology use in classroom settings. These failures are indicators of a major mismatch between technology policy and its implementation.
In the absence of clear indicators of relationships between policy and implementation, it is easy for teachers to overlook issues of value systems and beliefs and instead direct all their energies on assessment methods. This failure may persist because of failure by policymakers to provide the much-needed support in coming up with new technologies and strategies for enhancing their personal work before finally learning how to use it in actual classroom settings.
Literature on social and environmental impact of technology use in school settings in the UAE is scanty. This is one of the indicators of the extent to which scholars, policymakers, and analysts are preoccupied with integration of ICT into the country’s education system to the extent of forgetting to focus on the long-term impact it is likely to have on the country’s society (Vodanovich, 2010). Nevertheless, it is possible to determine the social and environmental impact of technology use through the analysis of available literature.
In terms of social relations, it is evident that technology is exerting some transformational impact in all realms of the UAE society. Today, there is heightened interest in how everyone can use ICT skills to improve his lot in society. This heightened interest has permeated even the education system, and it is one of the reasons why negative attitudes towards information technology are waning fast. Moreover, an increasingly large number of teachers are interested in becoming proficient ICT trainers who are able to match ICT skills with pedagogical experience.
As the level of motivation among teachers and learners alike continues to increase, the net effect is the emergence of an information society. Learners are becoming used to reliance on information in making crucial education-related decisions. In such a scenario, they are motivated to seek examples for classroom work from the information that is available on the internet as well as the available ICT infrastructure. In many ways, therefore, learners and teachers alike continue to appreciate the need to become socialized to live in a society where access to information is paramount. They realize that analysis of information is critical in decision-making in all aspects of life, from politics and advocacy to marketing and innovation.
Through ICT education, children across the UAE are better positioned to appreciate and understand the information society in which they live. For example, when a child accompanies his father to the automatic teller machine, the child can understand the explanation given by the father regarding the use of a computer and a network connection to facilitate the withdrawals and deposits in one’s bank account. In the contemporary environment, such an understanding creates a very positive development for the child. In the UAE, this has greatly motivated learners to seek ICT training, triggering an increase in the number of colleges that offer ICT courses across the country.
As interest on technology continues to soar, the need for ICT monitoring an evaluation becomes a major priority. In this regard, it is the responsibility of the national government to provide leadership on the course of action that should be taken in order to bring about the desired social and environmental impacts. In this case, the ideal social and environment impacts are those that safeguard the UAE society’s culture, values, and belief systems.
To understand the government’s priorities in terms of social and environmental impact of technology use in schools, it is imperative to discuss with its strategic planning for the use of ICT in education. Strategic planning is important because it provides a clear roadmap for integrating and implementing innovative educational technologies for use in learning and teaching. Moreover, it can bring about efficiency in expenditure, creating a scenario where limited resources lead to effectiveness in teaching and learning activities.
According to Makrakis (2002) the situation analyses that the UAE government has already carried out in efforts to introduce a three-year strategic plan for ICT use in schools highlight the need to consider context throughout the learning process. Consideration on context is crucial since it provides a platform through which choices will be made in order to maintain relevance to the values, beliefs, and cultures of the local people. In these situation analyses, the other factors highlighted include leadership support, funding, proper organizational climate, and consideration of time. In the process of needs identification, both qualitative and quantitative approaches to research activities are appropriate.
However, during this planning process, policymakers and implementers appear to face the risk of embarking on technology transfer blindly without paying attention to considerations of time and context. The planning and integration processes are highly complex and there is a need for planners to understand the social-cultural context in which technology is being introduced. In this regard, it is not right to say that technology use in school settings has been completely aligned with the values, and belief systems of the UAE society.
According to Makrakis (2002) the strategic plans that have been conceived thus far do not seem holistic enough to guarantee proper implementation of the technology integration process. Moreover, some of the implementation decisions that the government has taken are not rooted in empirical research evidence. This is evident in the fact that planning has largely been conceived as an end in itself rather than a process that entails transition from a clear defined vision to a new reality.
Appropriateness of technology used in UAE’s educational settings: Focus on social-environmental impact
In literature on the adoption of technology in UAE’s educational settings, the impression created is that the most crucial issues are those relating to technical and pedagogical aspects of implementation. However, this is not the case, there is another side that few scholars delve into: that of ensuring that the technology adopted is aligned with the social values as well as belief systems of the target community (Godwin, 2006). In educational settings, this requirement is even more crucial because the learners look up to their teachers in understanding social values, beliefs, and culture.
The training that is provided to teachers is appropriate to the extent that it addresses society-specific aspects of technology use in the classroom. In some cases, teachers have been expressing willingness to put into consideration the social contexts of the learners in designing technology-related curriculum materials and lesson plans. Once they make these considerations a key factor in their everyday teaching activities, learners are able to relate the various technologies used with their social environments.
However, owing to the weaknesses in defining goals and objectives of ICT plans, it seems easy for teachers and learners to leave out some socially relevant materials in preference for more universal content. This creates the risk of alienating learners from their own social contexts. In such a situation, the learners find it difficult to adapt to the real-life world, which is normally full of new realities that are radically different from the abstract visions taught in school. It is also disheartening to note that teachers cannot look up to the ministry level for guidance on issues of strategic planning. In some cases, participation by the ministry of education ended with the supply of computer hardware to schools. No significant progress has yet been made towards aligning this hardware with educational hardware or even teacher training.
It is interesting, though, that in most UAE schools, the infrastructural investment relating to technology is more than adequate. In fact, Makrakis (2002) argues that the UAE has invested more in information technology infrastructure that most countries in the West. In his study, Makrakis (2012) noted that in some schools, there were many hardware resources, which were distributed in all classrooms in addition to a central computer laboratory. The net effect of such a massive infrastructural investment is the creation of a social environment where ICT knowledge becomes a necessity. In such an environment, there is little room for negative attitudes and perceptions towards technology. In essence, the impression created is that technology has been made to become a core aspect of the country’s social fabric.
Indeed, technology has permeated the UAE society in a great way, considering that in primary schools, there is one computer for every 25 students, while in lower secondary school there is a computer for every 16 students (Makrakis, 2002). These computers have access to the internet. Moreover, those teachers and students who have computers at their homes can access their respective schools’ internet for free. This massive technological infrastructure speaks volumes about the potential for technology to transform the UAE society and change the way teaching and learning takes place. In an environment of this massive social transformation, the need for guidance on issues of social values and beliefs cannot be gainsaid.
Technology plays a critical role in educational settings in the UAE. When it is properly aligned with the values and beliefs of the UAE, technology greatly contributes to the improvement in learning and teaching outcomes. Moreover, it leads to positive social and environmental impact. This paper has focused on trends in technology use in school settings in the United Arab Emirates. From this discussion, one of the main findings is the need to incorporate aspects of social and environmental impact in the development of strategic plans for integration of technology into the country’s education system.
Moreover, teachers have an important role to play in ensuring that the social-environmental context for technology adoption in school settings is appropriate. It is fortunate that the negative perceptions that teachers and students used to have towards technology use at the dawn of the information age have greatly changed, creating an appropriate environment in which various technological tools can be aligned with the country’s value and belief systems.
Finally, from this research analysis, it is evident that today, one of the greatest threats to social progress and positive transformation, particularly in school contexts where technology is being used to teach students, is the lack of cooperation between schools and the ministry of education. On the scholarly front, though, the main setback is the failure by researchers to dwell more on the impact that technology use in school settings in the UAE has on the country’s value and belief systems as well as its social-environmental impact.
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