Andrea Benito
Middle East Editor

Saudi Vision 2030: Why the Kingdom is becoming a hub in EdTech education

Jun 07, 20235 mins
Credit: Getty

The Pandemic has pushed companies to accelerate their digital journey, large companies are already being encouraged to replace their traditional working methods with telematic ones. Proof of this is the KSA Cloud First Policy, announced in October 2020 by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and InformationTechnologies, after the launch of a cloud data center in the city of Jeddah, by Oracle. This policy was defined in line with the key pillars of KSA’s ambitious Vision 2030. The goal is to accelerate the adoption of cloud computing services by mandating governmental and semi-governmental.

“Digital transformation is happening, especially because of the pandemic, nowadays the motto is ‘Transform or be left behind’. Covid19 has pushed organizations across the world and every sector to accelerate its digital transformation from months to weeks in order to become more agile and demand customer expectations” said Ali Nasser AlAsiri, CEO at National Digital Transformation Unit.

How technology is shaping education in Saudi Arabia

In 2020, an estimated 1.500 million students missed school because of the pandemic. Institutions adopted smart technologies to ensure the continuity of education. This wave of digital transformation brings long-term benefits and goes beyond the mere growth of distance learning. Progress in this area has also been accelerated by COVID-19, with students learning remotely over the course of the last year.

The importance of education in supporting the success of Saudi Vision 2030 can’t be overstated.  The transformation of the economy through discovery and innovation across a multitude of sectors ranging from digital services to life sciences and clean sustainable energy requires a well-educated workforce. 

“Saudi Arabia clearly understands this and has led the way in establishing top-notch institutions of advanced research and higher learning.  From what I see across the nation, there is definitely an emphasis on STEM. It is clearly recognized that these areas are the cornerstones for economic transformation.  In fact, the organization that I work for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is an example of those efforts,’ explained Jason Roos, CIO at KAUST. “There was a time when this region, and the greater Islamic world, served as the epicentre of global scientific advancement.  The famous “House of Wisdom” or Bayt Al-Hikma served as a beacon of knowledge while much of the western world descended into the depths of the Dark Ages a millennium ago.  So, the pursuit of scientific discovery and technological innovation is just part of the culture, and the reinvigoration of those educational pursuits will serve as the foundation of the Kingdom’s transformation success for decades to come.”

Thus, the digital transformation of the education sector is another important part of Vision 2030’s success, to ensure young people in the Kingdom have the right skills for the future world of work. According to PWC, Hopes and Fear survey, 57% of the respondents in Saudi Arabia are either excited or confident about the future of their children and that technology will offer a world full of possibilities for their kids. Progress in this area has also been accelerated by Covid-19, with students learning remotely over the course of the last year

“Educational innovation must recognize that the digital landscape has opened up so many opportunities to provide education differently.  The skills of tomorrow require agility and on-demand delivery that cannot easily fit into the traditional educational journey.  There has been an over-emphasis on “credentialing” that has made higher education too expensive and in some cases irrelevant to the needs of the digital workforce. The younger generations of digital natives know how to find the right answer and learn the skills they want to acquire through an ever-expanding array of social media channels.”

“I can’t speak for the entire country but I know that the requirement to adopt a distance learning delivery model at the beginning of the pandemic for all levels of education ranging from K-12 to university studies forced a rapid deployment of technological solutions.  This shift instigated an urgent effort to train everyone on the proper use of those tools in order to keep students on track in their educational journey,” added Roos.

As KAUST’s CIO Roos explains he was fortunate to have already in place a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that allowed us to serve our multinational workforce.  However, KAUST’s main challenge early on during the pandemic was identifying individuals that had not really used some of those tools with they were only optional, but when remote working required the usage of those solutions the IT department had to respond quickly with a training plan and related documentation to get everyone up-to-speed and productive as soon as possible.  

KAUST has launched numerous initiatives over the last couple of years in recognition of the ever-changing nature of the digital landscape.  One of the key initiatives that Roos had the privilege of launching is a program that focuses on pushing the boundaries of digital innovation by creating a truly unique and immersive “Smart City” experience within the KAUST community. This effort seeks to combine existing technologies with emerging capabilities that are being developed by our researchers and students to curate experiences that can be piloted in our community, demonstrating that innovation is fundamental to the KAUST ethos.  

“KAUST Smart program is a cross-functional initiative that engages the entire KAUST organization and community through a dedicated team that works with various KAUST departments to identify opportunities for enhanced digital experiences and drives those efforts to achieve meaningful outcomes.  KAUST Smart partners with companies and organizations to develop, test, and pilot technologies and to take advantage of our unique city environment. We do this through design-thinking workshops, co-development hackathons, prototype construction, experimentations, and eventually the deployment of technologies and solutions in a real-world operational setting throughout various parts of the KAUST community.”