One of the products of Little Thinking Minds, a Jordan-based ed-tech company aiming to rekindle students' love of the Arabic language, is shown on an iPad. (Courtesy Little Thinking Minds/Facebook)

Mideast Ed-tech Companies Flourish amid Pandemic

Coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns lead to boom in use of remote learning platforms in region and farther afield

With schools closed and many lockdown measures still in effect due to the coronavirus pandemic, the educational technology (ed-tech) sector in the Middle East is reporting major growth.

According to the World Bank, at least 1.5 billion students were impacted by school closures in more than 160 countries at the pandemic’s peak. The COVID-19 crisis also forced many schools and places of higher learning to rapidly adopt remote learning technologies.

However, even before the coronavirus pandemic, the global ed-tech market was forecast to triple in value from 2015 to 2025, rising from some $107 billion to reach $341 billion, according to a Research and Markets report.

Now, as many schools and universities continue to remain shuttered, that forecast is slated to undergo a radical reassessment as more and more students and educational institutions embrace these new technologies.

“Usage of our programs is spiking dramatically for schools that have already purchased our products, and we are seeing a huge interest from schools that haven’t because many are waking up to the importance of digital personalized products for students,” Shaden M. Al-Salah, business development manager at Jordan-based Little Thinking Minds, told The Media Line in an email, adding that the company has 260,000 monthly active users.

Usage of our programs is spiking dramatically for schools that have already purchased our products, and we are seeing a huge interest from schools that haven’t because many are waking up to the importance of digital personalized products for students

Founded in 2005, Little Thinking Minds creates advanced digital solutions and platforms to help children in the Middle East and North Africa improve their Arabic language skills. It has a presence in Jordan, of course, but also in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries in Europe and the Americas.

“Our main focus today is supporting schools in their distance-learning efforts,” Salah noted, adding that the company had recently launched online professional development workshops for teachers.

Its products are currently in use by some 3,000 teachers and 130,000 children at over 250 schools in 16 countries.

“Oftentimes, the same situations that threaten a business can also pose great opportunities,” Salah said of the pandemic. “We are looking forward to this new phase as education systems reconsider the way children have been taught historically.”

The UAE-based Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center recently awarded its first Access Sharjah equity-free grant of $100,000 to the company, which the latter intends to invest in comprehensive Arabic language resources for users around the globe.

As the pandemic has made abundantly clear, ed-tech has several practical benefits over traditional learning frameworks. For one, they are more cost efficient than traditional educational frameworks. But they also provide flexibility to suit an individual student’s pace and needs.

In a recent report, Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, a senior analyst and project manager at the OECD Center for Educational Research and Innovation, noted that in the time of the pandemic, school systems have become painfully aware of the need for more digital solutions.

“Regardless of the crisis, the geography of investment in the innovative part of the ed-tech industry is changing fast,” Vincent-Lancrin wrote in the report.

Among the specific kinds of ed-tech reaping the benefits of the crisis are, perhaps unsurprisingly, virtual learning environments, online courses and degrees, and after-school and adult learning mobile apps.

QiDZ is a digital platform based in Dubai that aims to help parents find and book kid-friendly educational activities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Founded by five businesswomen in late 2017, it has added a new product line that takes into account the coronavirus restrictions in each locale.

“With COVID-19, the need to provide inspiration to parents has never been more important, and the QiDZ at Home product was launched just prior to the lockdown,” Simona Agolini, CEO and co-founder of QiDZ, told The Media Line. “[It] helps empower parents and provide them with ideas on how to entertain their families while at home.”

Agolini stresses that the new product line has been very well received and has helped add new users to the app.

“We are regularly approached by investors, and this has not really changed during COVID,” she added. “QiDZ is a mobile app that aggregates all family-friendly activities, events and afterschool classes in one place so that parents can find, plan and book fun things to do with their families.”

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