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Middle East eLearning Forum
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
This morning I joined 90 to 100 people for the 1/2 day Middle East eLearning Forum at the Intercontinental Hotel in Berlin.

The League of Arab States has proclaimed that "eLearning should contribute to achieving the elimination of illiteracy, universal primary education worldwide, better delivery of education, better training of teachers, improved conditions for lifelong learning, encompass people outside 'normal' education process, and improving professional skills."

Impressions and snapshots:
  • The Middle East believes in eLearning. Arab countries outspend the international averages for education.
  • The Arab world is behind the West in eLearning: doesn’t have organization, software, etc.
  • Each country goes its own way.
  • Most Arab countries have joint-ventured with Western companies. In fact, Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, WebCT, and others each appear to own the relationship with a particular country.
  • eLearning seems to have a stronger foothold in education than in industry.
  • "Nationalization" of jobs is a prime driver; this means transferring job duties from expatriates to locals.
  • 1 in 3 men and 1 in 2 women are illiterate; eLearning has application beyond schools.
  • Many Arab countries require an ICDL (international computer driver's license) in order to get a job.

Factors influencing eLearning:
  • Extensive Governmental support across the region
  • Rapid nationalization programs. Equip locals to replace expats.
  • Create job-ready professionals
  • 9/11 effect. Going to the U.S. is tough; parents don’t want kids to go there
  • Huge growth in Higher Education Institutions<\ul>

    Speakers described customization ("change their headress"). I asked if, given the morning's critique that each country was going solo, coordination were possible. Might it be feasible for many countries to partner on a common approach? Several people gave me a thumbs up. A vendor didn't think it would work. I suggested it might be tough for vendors: buyers with collective clout would dictate the price they would pay. Another person thought a consortium would move too slowly and would stifle innovation. Another person said the countries would not agree on anything.

    After the session, several people told me they were glad I raised the issue. Some pointed out that this was politics (true). Are individual Arab countries as far apart from one another as red and blue states in the U.S.? As for lack of agreement, don't these countries all read the same Koran?


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