Christine Petré
Last updated: 12 January, 2015

Digital learning – the future for education in Maghreb?

Can the Maghreb countries make a transition to e-learning before 2020? Well, that is the aim of ministers, scholars, professionals, and students who recently met in Tunisia to find innovative ideas to improve their education systems.

The three-day Maghreb Digital Learning and Education Innovation Conference was initiated by the British Council with the aim of exchanging experiences between the Maghreb countries and the United Kingdom, identifying mutual obstacles and innovative solutions.

Why is it that none of the Arab universities is ranked among the best in the world, asked Shireen Yacoub from Edraak, the first Arabic MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform. We need to be pro-active in this field and move away from traditional teaching, she argued. Digital learning is all about using information and communications technology to improve the field of education.

One challenge is the limited amount of online Arabic material. “We need to enrich this content,” explained Yacoub and emphasised at the same time that the need for more innovative English online learning tools for Arabic speakers is essential for the future.

“There is a huge demand for English learning,” agreed Stephen Haggard, the conference consultant. The attendants were excited to take part and well aware of the problems facing their countries, he noted. “They are very willing to use technology in an efficient way.”

Some of the challenges that the conference raised included how to decrease the unemployment rate among educated people in the Maghreb region. Suggestions included introducing better employment platforms and improve the connectivity between universities and the employers.

In order to overcome some of the obstacles raised, the conference arranged an “innovative challenge,” where participants in small groups had the chance to pitch an idea in front of a panel of judges. The team with the winning concept proposed a platform that would link the unemployed with potential stakeholders.

One of the conclusions of the discussions is that participation, leadership and momentum shouldn’t rest solely with state “pinnacle” institutions and their senior officials, but be handed to students, businesspeople, classroom teachers and citizen organizations including social entrepreneurs. Digital expansion experiences show that breadth, and indeed some measure of competitive anarchy, drives success.

Increased exposure to international best practices, programs of dialogue between digital learning communities across Maghreb, and a shift from experimentation and piloting towards scale and duration were other suggestions. The gains from digital learning need to spread widely in order to justify the investments. 

“It’s been a good gathering,” said Karim Moustaghfir from Al Akhawayn University in Morocco. “People from different sectors, countries share their practices and difficulties, it’s been very useful.” The social element is very important, argued Moustaghfir, who would have liked to see more social activities outside of the workshops to build stronger connections between the participants. 

However, the conference is simply the beginning of a yearlong cooperation between the attendants who will continue to try to bring learning online in order to battle some of the region’s challenges.