‘COVID-19’ a catalyst for EdTech industry in GCC region


The EdTech industry is transforming traditional learning methods by blending digital capabilities and the widespread penetration of digital devices within the general population. EdTech platforms have mushroomed to encompass adaptive learning, animated content, gamification, etc (Khaleej Times). The global EdTech market size was valued at USD 89.49 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 106.04 billion in 2021. Which is expected to witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.9% from 2021 to 2028 to reach USD 377.85 billion by 2028 (Grand View Research).

It is notable that the combined investments in 2018 and 2019 are greater than the total combined investment recorded from 1998 through 2017, a period of quarter century. Within the MENA region too, deals rose from four in 2016 to over 30 in 2019 (Ibid). There is much investment interest too in MENA. MENA EdTech startups raised over USD 30 million in PE and VC funding, for 2020, but that number is increasing rapidly year-on-year (Zawya).

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected 91% of the student population worldwide, according to UNESCO, creating unpreceded disruption in global education sector (Arabian Business). Before the pandemic, ushering in tech into education was this added luxury, but now it has become a necessary part of student’s life. Presently, even the government is taking initiative, the UAE government launched its digital teaching platform, madrasa.org, through which it could offer free education to school-aged children, while the Saudi Ministry of Education is broadcasting lessons for all grades on TV and social media channels. Kuwait has followed a similar approach, using the Kuwait Educational channel to provide school students with lessons (Khaleej Times).

Furthermore, the UAE’s Ministry of Education is expected to expand its spend on e-learning initiatives by 60 percent to a worth of USD 7.1 billion by 2023. This is a significant rise considering in 2017 just USD 2 million was invested in EdTech start-ups across the entire MENA region (Arabian Business).

In the current and post-pandemic world, EdTech industry will play a greater role; however, it needs huge investments in telecom and infrastructure, faster data connectivity and capacity building. Moreover, Covid-19 has enabled the education sector to realize the strong potential of digital learning (Ibid). Also, due to the challenges that schools are facing due to the lockdown in many parts of the world, EdTech companies have enabled tools and platforms like live doubt-clearing sessions, e-books, etc.

EdTech can also be used to strategize and tailor the syllabi, addressing the distinct learning interests or specialized learning requirements (Entrepreneur Media ). The potential of EdTech in the GCC is evidenced by Kuwait-based Baims. Founded in 2017, Baims started operations with customized tutoring modules based on university curricula (Wamda). It then expanded its capacities to include multiple colleges and universities in both Kuwait and Riyadh. The startup, reportedly, managed to break even within 24 hours. Another start-up Zedny, which was launched in mid-June 2020 with a USD 1.2 million pre-seed investment, offers Arabic online courses and video summaries of best sellers, applying AI to enhance the user experience. Noon Academy is one of the fastest growing Edu-Tech startup in the Middle East based in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with over 2 million registered students. The startup raised one of Saudi Arabia’s third biggest funding rounds in H1 2020, with a total of USD 13 million and now operates in 8 different countries.

A key enabler for EdTech is the fact that the devices are getting smarter and more efficient (Appinventiv). A web of interconnectivity using big data Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help in driving autonomous customer experiences (CX), adding a highly personalized dimension to EdTech market. Also, the integration of Blockchain Technology allows end-users to store and secure records of students and learners, thereby enabling educators to analyze the consumption patterns of the material offered to the learners(Grand View Research).

There are several other emerging benefits of EdTech too. Some of them are (Ibid) –

  • Digital accessing of education could help ensure a border-less or international experience, helping in the emergence of B2C education distribution channels.
  • With learning material getting remotely accessible, EdTech could catalyze ‘education for all’.
  • Education could be customized to each student, enabling self-paced classes to become commonplace.
  • For those differently abled, innovating customized provisions becomes possible and easier, thus empowering access to quality education.

Incidentally, EdTech is being seen as a tool for upskilling for a future-ready workforce too (CNBC). It is because education doesn’t just end after college in an era of strident tech disruptions, mandating continuous learning as important to protect jobs in the process. The ongoing pandemic health crisis has made sure that nothing will likely be the same as before the great lockdown (India Today). In education too, online platforms that were once seen as useful supplements to conventional education infrastructure will become deeply mainstream. Undoubtedly, this will change the fashion in which academic content is created, personally consumed and deployed across platforms.

As long as the governments and industries continue to stay open for partnerships and innovation in the EdTech space, we can look forward to education systems that are broader, richer, more sophisticated, and more inclusive. We have seen technology transform the global financial services and retail sectors, and the opportunity that exists for educating and empowering the GCC’s young leaders of tomorrow is even more exciting.

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