Facebook, Twitter, and Google have become indispensible tools in our professional as well as social lives; this is fast becoming as true in the Middle East as anywhere else in the world. As we recently reported, Twitter use in Saudi Arabia is higher than anywhere else in the world, with 33% of Saudis having a Twitter account.
The 5th edition of the Dubai School of Government’s Arab Social Media Report, which came out this past summer, is worth perusing in light of recent initiatives to improve education in the region. This year’s edition takes an in-depth look at how social media can be harnessed in the region’s classrooms.
The report lays down several main challenges faced by educators in the Arab world. The most alarming is an extremely wide education gender gap, comparable to the world’s lowest rates in sub-Saharan Africa. There are also extremely high rates of truancy among mainly young men, especially as they reach adolescence. Even when students make it through high school, or even university, the schools they attend aren’t necessarily teaching them skills that will allow them to be competitive in the job market.
Social media can help, the study concludes. Much of secondary education in the region is rote learning, preventing students from developing curiosities of their own. Social media’s self-directed and spontaneous nature allows students to follow their passions. Further, the interactive nature of learning on social media will allow students to develop communication skills with people from all over the world.
The report’s findings indicate problems associated with increased use of social media in the classroom, namely, those related to the “open social nature of interactions on social media.” But the study’s creators seem to find that the potential benefits of social media far outweigh the costs: “such problems are dwarfed by the challenges education in the Arab region has been suffering from for decades.”