edX and Saudi Arabia collaborate on a new MOOC portal to empower women and the disadvantaged

online-learning-saudi-arabiaedX, a nonprofit online platform affiliated with Harvard and MIT, provides open source software for anyone in the world with an internet connection. The courses are free and many countries have adopted edX including China and France.

In November 2013, edX and the Queen Rania Foundation launched Edraak, the first massive open online course (MOOC) portal in Jordan to “open up a world of possibility for intellectually hungry Arab youth,” according to the Queen.

With a booming youth population and rising unemployment, edX is capitalizing on a growing interest in information and online media among Arabic speakers by launching a new initiative with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor. This new Arabic online learning platform aims to empower women and the disadvantaged with critical 21st century skills.

What is the inspiration for the launching of this new platform?

Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said that MOOCs and online learning are very transformative technology. “It will truly help change education, which is a very good thing. Our hope is that it will be embraced from all over the world. It leads to economic prosperity.”

(Next page: Improving the quality of life with free education)

According to Maha Taibah, an advisor to the Saudi Minister of Labor, “50 percent of the Saudi population is under 25 and these youth are very tech savvy and use technology as a regular means of interacting and gaining information.”

Innovations in online learning should be viewed as a big leap forward for Saudi Arabia, which was one of the last Middle Eastern countries to grant internet access for its citizens. Since that time, internet use has ballooned by 3,750 percent between 2000 and 2009.

Social Media has also skyrocketed in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. Since 2011, Facebook grew by more than 50 percent in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. Nearly 300 million YouTube videos are consumed daily in the Arab world with Saudi Arabia leading the region in playbacks.

Currently, there are initiatives and academic institutions in Saudi Arabia that use online education either as a supplement or main channel of delivery. However the unique proposition of this platform is to focus primarily on practical and tangible skills that are need for career success.

Specifically, this platform will emphasize “general employability skills, such as communication skills, job searching and financial literacy,” said Maha. Courses will also address the critical skills needed in Saudi’s booming ICT, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail sectors.

While advocating free education specifically for women could receive backlash from more traditional elements in the conservative Kingdom, Maha is optimistic.”I think one of the main dimensions we are particularly excited about with this partnership is our ability to innovate to improve hands on vocational and technical education through technology.”

The first courses are expected to launch in September 2014.

Anant views this achievement as part of edX’s mission to help countries create local platforms for courses of interest to their populations, in their local language.

As of June 2014, edX has over 2 million users taking more than 200 online courses.

Michael Sharnoff is Associate Online Editor at eCampus News.

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