DUBAI – The UAE has built up a strong infrastructure for education sector to cater to the needs of 200-plus nationalities and it will continue to serve the industry despite challenging environment, slowdown in global economy and the coronavirus pandemic, an industry veteran says.
Raza Khan, chief executive officer of Al Najah Education, said the UAE is a very unique place worldwide with a very high per capita income, growing economy and a large population of expatriates.
“This makes the UAE international schools’ capital of the world with more private schools per head of the population than anywhere else. The UAE is a market leader in private education worldwide,” Khan told DubaiNews.tv during Meet the CEO programme.
He said the UAE in general and Dubai in particular offers great environment for innovation, investment and business in the education field.
“In Dubai, we have more than 200 nationalities living and working and the city offers high quality of teaching and learning through British, American and international curriculum. We have one of the largest numbers of per head of recognised schools of international curriculum offering quality education at a right price.”
Dubai no doubt is one of the successful markets due to strong regulatory framework and supportive environment by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority and I think it will continue to drive the growth of private education in the emirate.
Al Najah Education, one of the leading education providers in the region, operates three schools in the Dubai including Horizon International School. It has pioneered a child-centred approach based on three guiding principles — exceptional teaching quality, memorable learning experiences, and great value for money for the families it serves.
“We establish and manage schools and nurseries that spark a life-long love of learning in our students, with a clear focus on academic development as well as emotional intelligence, 21st century critical thinking and social skills.
“I am fortunate to run a chain of international school based in Dubai, which is world leader in private education because of strong and progressive role of the regulator that sets the right conditions for business. They also protect the interest of parents and also creates high barriers to entry and encourage competition to ensure quality education,” Khan said.
Al Najah Education also has a mandate to invest in the education sector across Mena and Southeast Asia, with Horizon Education Asia Limited (Heal) being a subsidiary through which all Southeast Asian investments are made. It acquired significant stake in Malaysia-based Regent International Schools in June last year.
“Dubai no doubt is one of the successful markets due to strong regulatory framework and supportive environment by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority and I think it will continue to drive the growth of private education in the emirate,” he added.
Al Najah defies pandemic
Khan said education sector has also impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, but Al Najah group successfully countered the pandemic impact and emerged stronger during difficult and crisis time.
He was of the view that there are huge investment opportunities in the education industry to ensure safety of students without compromising on quality of education.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns worldwide are gamechanger for education industry. At Al Najah, we quickly moved from school-based model to distance learning so all of our children could enjoy uninterrupted learning,” he said.
“Our group managed to grow both in numbers and revenues even during the coronavirus crisis. We wisely handled the coronavirus outbreak in line with the government policy and guidelines issued by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) to ensure safety of students and staff,” Khan proudly explained.
“Al Najah is a market leader with schools across Mena and Asia, and so we quickly redefined and modernized our whole approach. We invested in ‘smart classrooms’ that can easily switch from in-school to distance learning, along with state-of-the-art safety systems,” he said.
Referring to Horizon International School in Dubai, Khan said it was the very first education institution to help parents financially during the crisis. He also paid tribute to Horizon English School that was also the first school in Dubai to develop a specialised safety regime to keep the youngest learners safe.
“Only because of these initiatives, our schools were able safely to open every day for all the children once the new term started. And we grew our numbers despite everything – we are even opening new classes in January,” he said.
Industry to grow
Khan was confident about the bright outlook for the education industry despite the coronavirus disruptions and said demand for quality education institutions will remain and require more investment from the serious industry players to cater to the needs of residents and nationals in the UAE and the GCC region.
Referring to latest report by Moody’s Investors Service growing demand for quality education will continue to drive primary and secondary education provider’s growth over the next three years.
Moody’s expects blended learning to be a growing part of the service offering for private primary and secondary education providers, with learning centres further moving to pure online offerings, if required. Companies that have already invested in their online platforms and demonstrated their ability to offer online learning will be able to capitalise on this growing trend.
“New capital can be invested positively in the education industry in line with the latest trends in post-Covid era. It can be invested to use for upgrading schools’ infrastructure, developing new schools with more advanced learning technologies, and creating new edutech applications,” he said.
Alpen Capital’s research report — GCC Education Industry — said the total number of students in the GCC education sector is projected to reach 14.5 million in 2022, registering a CAGR of 2.3 per cent and this can be attributed to rising population base of school- and college-age students.
During the same time, students at the primary and secondary segments is expected to reach at 10.9 million in 2022, accounting for over three-fourths of total students in the GCC, the report said.
“The number of students at private schools is projected to reach 3.2 million in 2022, registering a CAGR of 4.1 per cent. Enrollments at public schools is projected to increase at a CAGR of 1.3 per cent to 8.8 million by 2022.
“Similarly, the total number of students in Saudi Arabia is projected to grow at a CAGR of 1.8 per cent to reach 10.3 million by 2022. In the UAE, it is projected to grow at a CAGR of 3.4 per cent to 1.5 million by 2022,” the report said.
Latest trends in education
Khan said education industry is passing through a transition phase to integrate latest technology and intelligent learning in new smart school concept across the region.
“I can see that smart schools are going to hold the future of education not only in the region but worldwide. The rise of the ‘smart school’, where cloud-based technology and intelligent learning systems are integrated seamlessly into the learning experience, is writing on the wall and hold the future of education industry” Khan said.
He proudly mentioned that Horizon English School is a pioneer of technology-based learning for young children, preparing them from the very start for a high-tech future.
“Technology has taken the main role in the Covid era. I can see ‘edtech’ playing a major role going forward. There is a discussion about home-schooling or distance learning, but actually the bigger story is how technology and Artificial Intelligence will drive the education sector by changing the way we think, teach and learn,” Khan said.
“I’m looking at new systems that allow schools to revolutionise communications and assessment and create a 24/7 learning experience. Edutainment will be another growth area – advanced educational games; apps to support children’s cognitive and thinking skills; and so on,” he added.