The UAE was well prepared to make the shift to distance learning platforms after the pandemic hit.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for a massive adoption of advanced technologies in the healthcare, education and telecommunications sectors as service providers abruptly switched to online platforms.
The announcement regarding the same has been made by speakers at the virtual edition of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (#GMIS2020) which took place on September 4-5.
Hussain Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, and Edward Zhou, Vice President for Global Public Affairs of Huawei, convened today on a panel titled ‘Pushing the limits in the healthcare, telecoms and education sectors: bent, but not broken?’ to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the education and telecoms sectors.
Al Hammadi said the UAE was well prepared to make the shift to distance learning platforms after the pandemic hit because in 2012 the country launched the Mohammed Bin Rashid Smart Learning Initiative which was established to offer a unique learning environment in schools through the introduction of ‘Smart Classes’ under which students will utilise smart devices and high-speed 4G networks as means of acquiring knowledge. The experience gained through this initiative has allowed the UAE to fine-tune educational curriculums into two versions – one for classrooms and the other for distance learning.
“We really invested a lot a long time ago in all these infrastructure requirements to enable us to continue educating in different scenarios,” he said. “It’s about building the best learning platform that is really smart, resilient, and meets modern requirements. Then you need to provide teachers and students with appropriate devices that enable them to enter the network and have the capabilities to use advanced applications and software to be embedded in the learning platform.”
Minister Al Hammadi said the rapid shift to distance learning on an unprecedented scale had still created huge technical and logistical challenges for the education system. To deal with this, the Ministry of Education created a Satellite Operations Center to cope with the demand, and connect with the parents and students. “We had 1.2 plus million students in the general education that we have to shift within two weeks to this platform for full 100 per cent learning and we had never done this big a number through distance learning. We had to upgrade Internet speed by almost 100 per cent,” he said.
Zhou highlighted the role that telecommunications had played in keeping economies moving during the pandemic, but he stressed the disproportionate impact that the virus had on communities that still have no access to the internet.
“The ICT industry has contributed greatly to today’s world, but there are still gaps and challenges,” he said. “Over the past 30 years there has been a great leap in the development of information technologies, mobile communications, the Internet, and also high-speed broadband has improved our lives, work and economies, in many ways.
“However, Covid-19 has been a reminder that we are still not doing enough. The current foundation is not as strong as we might think. According to the ITU, just under half of the world’s population is still offline, and has no access to digital technologies. Children in remote areas have been unable to join online classes during the pandemic.”
Edward Zhao said investment in infrastructure at government level is a fundamental part of the solution, which should be accompanied by progressive tax policies that incentivise corporate investment. Increased investment would help support digital transformation of businesses, which has become an urgent priority in light of the pandemic. He also said governments should define network equipment as critical infrastructure which would allow workers to operate the network and maintain equipment during a time of crisis.
Zhao called for global standards for technologies to help bring down costs for operators and enable the diffusion of technology and connectivity to a much wider audience and become more inclusive. “Having different standards dramatically increases the cost for the whole industry so this is a very big challenge in front of us,” he said. “We encourage the whole industry to work together, the public and private sector, to have one standardisation for the ICT industry. We believe with technologies, there’s no border, so we think that inclusion is very important for all people. No matter where they live, they can enjoy the benefits of innovative technologies. Innovations belong to human beings, not countries or specific individuals but for everyone.”
The Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit is a joint initiative by the United Arab Emirates and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Under the theme – Glocalisation: Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Global Value Chains, the third edition of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (#GMIS2020) has gathered a cross-section of close to 100 global leaders from the world’s public and private sector to participate across more than 20 virtual sessions to discuss pathways to accelerate the role of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies to build more resilient global value chains and restore prosperity in a post-pandemic world.
Olga Golodets, Former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and Deputy Chairman of the Executive Board of Sberbank, said that new technologies like telemedicine platforms, remote monitoring devices and AI have come to the fore in this new environment, and has made high level healthcare available to a broad range of patients. Demand for telemedicine consultations soared during the pandemic, rising 60-fold in the United States alone, as people were reluctant to leave their homes.
During the pandemic, Sberbank’s AI Lab quickly developed a model to diagnose coronavirus through CT scans, which is being widely used by doctors all over Russia. “Today, there are hundreds of AI models in the world that help doctors to finalise the diagnosis,” Golodets said. “AI uses many cases to generate more accurate knowledge about diseases, their course and treatments.”
Despite being past the acute stage of the pandemic, Golodets said it was clear that demand for new technologies is here to stay and that the pandemic experience has accelerated the application of new healthcare solutions everywhere – in medical education, in consultation, in nursing, and in patient support.
She said: “The mission of healthcare is changing today. In the past, the main mission was only to treat a patient. Today, the main mission is not only to treat a patient but also to preserve health and prevent disease. New technologies are helping to choose the right approach to preventive care. People have started to use special applications and programs to actively track their health on a daily basis, and the job of professionals is to help them in the most effective and efficient way.”