One of the core pillars of the Germany-based educational institution NIUVERSITY is the finding that one of the major obstacles for Arabic learners on their way to acquire international standard skills and knowledge was that their English was insufficient to follow and internalize available input.
In other words: Ever since MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) appeared on the Internet and provided the world with up-to-date knowledge, most Arabs had no access to it because they do not master English to the extent that makes learning possible, applicable and thus sustainable.
In a market-research performed by NIUVERSITY in 2017, we found out that less than 10% of registered learners of a course (usually a pre-recorded series of lectures) stay until the end of the course, which means that around 90% of the learners give up and drop the course. A very frustrating finding for the representatives of the claim that any information, any knowledge in the world, is accessible to anyone.
Of course, one mitigation strategy could be to improve their English. But this is a long process and not always an easy thing to do. And it distracts from the real and immediate target: improving professional skills to develop one’s life.
If we consider Arabic to be the vernacular language of approximately 350 million people in around 20 countries in North Africa and the Middle East, and if we further take into consideration that more than 60% of the Arabs are younger than 35 years, we are talking about around 200 million potential learners. In light of an incredibly high unemployment rate all over the Arab world (with some exceptions in the Gulf countries) and the fact that proper and adequate education is by far not accessible for all these potential learners, we concluded that the learning offers have to be adapted to the deficiencies of the present online learning environment.
Once again, the crucial weakness of the available online courses is that English is the dominant language of instruction, and at the same time, English is by far not mastered to the required level that makes learning possible and efficient.
Learning is an emotional process. And the mother tongue is the emotional homeland of every learner. Suppose we teach relevant content (which may lead to employability in the international and partly remote labour market). In that case, we can break this deadlock in the learning process for many people who wish to make more out of their lives. This also and foremost applies to female learners who have even more restricted access to learning than their male contemporaries.
In 2018 NIUVERSITY analyzed the online content market on the World Wide Web. The prevailing skills taught are skills related to digital transformation, management skills and the new upcoming hot topics like blockchain, big data, the Internet of things, AI and Machine Learning. These topics can pave the way to remote and independent jobs in a global labour market, providing students and graduates with the needed skills.
Thus, NIUVERSITY developed a portfolio of courses that combine the following basic features:
Teaching in Arabic; teaching online; guiding the learners in the virtual classroom instead of giving them pre-recorded input; teaching skills relevant to the 21st century help face the challenges of digital transformation.
Until today more than 80,000 learners have taken courses with NIUVERSITY. We have achieved a completion rate of around 90%, which means that only 10% of registered students drop the course they have registered in. Around 80% of learners have passed the final exam on the first attempt, and slightly above 50% are female.
We are also training university staff in the Arab world, both from the administrational and the academic cadre, mainly in topics like “Personal and Professional Productivity” and “Online Teaching and Learning”, using instructional design methodologies and gamification. Even here, in the environment of traditionally highly skilled trainees, we make the experience that Arabs prefer to receive training in their vernacular language, Arabic. The learning process is smoother and much more efficient. It is highly appreciated by the learners if they are approached in their mother tongue.
Of course, this does not replace the necessity that career development requires a good mastery of the dominant language around the globe – whether we like it or not -English. But on their way to becoming full and successful members of the global knowledge community, vernacular teaching combined with up-to-date content can make a remarkable difference.