The format of education has changed, possibly forever, due to the ongoing viral pandemic, with UNESCO reporting that more than 60% of the world’s student population have been negatively impacted by the virus and the follow-on school closures.
While teachers have had to quickly amend most of their curricula to an online format, students and parents who aren’t lucky enough to have schools open in their area have had to take a crash course in home-learning. Which means, according to Charif Hamidi, founder of edtech startup Ed4.0 – an education social enterprise committed to removing barriers to high-quality, free education for children worldwide – there has never been a better time for edtech entrepreneurs to shine, particularly those who have developed technology to head into 2021 with distanced-based solutions.
Verdict spoke to three such edtech startups, all of whom have found themselves gravitating to vibrant tech ecosystems in places such as the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi. While many nations have found themselves with students falling behind and unable to keep up – again according to UNESCO – countries such as the UAE (with a flexible regulatory framework and a rapid approach to implementing change) are adjusting well to the post-Covid-19 education world.
“Abu Dhabi has positioned itself as a promising hub for startups across industries,” Hamidi explains. “It’s not just for education or edtech. What Abu Dhabi offers is a combination of public and private initiatives that provided Abu Dhabi with a solid infrastructure and an entrepreneurial ecosystem that in turn has proven to be quite attractive to entrepreneurs worldwide and across sectors. The education technology sector stands in the forefront of the most boisterous sectors in Abu Dhabi.”
Teacherly is a UK-founded edtech startup that focuses on training teachers in skills that allow them to work remotely. Founder Atif Mahmood has said that the interactive platform, which allows teachers to collaborate worldwide and lesson plan, has seen a huge amount of growth since opening up a second branch in Abu Dhabi. Mahmood points to the networking he’s done since being part of Abu Dhabi’s tech ecosystem, Hub71.
“I’m a single founder – I’m not an expert in everything – and I need the best people around me who are experts in their particular field,” Mahmood explains via Zoom. “When I came on a scouting trip to Abu Dhabi and saw the incredible networking – not just meet-and-greets, but real meeting of minds with actual outcomes – I knew we needed to be a part of this.
“Microsoft is a partner and has been a huge supporter of us. We have a great partnership with them now because of Abu Dhabi and Hub71. And I think before that it would be difficult to get Microsoft’s attention as a small startup.”
Anjal Z, Abu Dhabi’s edtech accelerator (which is run by the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority), operates a programme specifically for edtech startups. Recently, it provided five startups with eight weeks of intense training and mentorship. Top-performing startups that demonstrate a strong expansion strategy and progress in the UAE qualify for $100,000 in non-equity grant money, in-kind services and follow-on investments. The startups are Mexico-based Kinedu, UK-based Nurturey and Kinderly, Guatemala-based Afinidata and UAE-based Lamsa – all of which have now benefitted from the Gulf country’s commitment to research and development and educational technology.
Badr Ward, CEO of the UAE’s home-grown award-winning Arabic-language educational app, Lamsa, told Verdict that he’s received more enquiries from regional and international investors than ever before, both due to the changing landscape of education post-Covid-19 and because of his integration with Hub71’s network.
He explains: “We’ve been able to easily communicate with relevant government entities; build a true sense of community and solve big tech problems through regular discussions with fellow colleagues within the industry to learn from their experiences. For years I was telling everyone that Abu Dhabi is great, but people felt it was too far away. Now, the conversation has changed, they say ‘tell me more, when can I come visit?’”
“I really do wish for the fast recovery of school systems,” continues the CEO, “but after this crisis, the role of teachers and technology will change and the whole world will come to realise that remote learning is not just a ‘nice to have’.”