Jordan Launches Arabic Online Education Service, Focuses on Women

Millions of people around the world are enrolling in massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by the world's leading universities, and in emerging nations, the MOOCs are lifeline for people who cannot attend school or afford higher education.

Rania Al Abdullah, Queen of Jordan, has taken a special interest in MOOCs and her foundation has announced the formation of a new Arabic online education service called Edraak. Queen Rania favors online education that will benefit minority groups in the Arab world, especially young women, writes Christina Farr of Venture Beat.

Edraak was formed in partnership with MOOC provider edX, which is a bit different from Coursera and Udacity. In 2011, edX was launched by a team of professors and open-source advocates at Harvard and MIT.

"Engaging, fresh, relevant – and, most importantly, in Arabic – MOOCs on Edraak will open up a world of possibility for intellectually hungry Arab youth," Queen Rania said in a statement.

Haifa Dia Al-Attia is serving as chief executive of Queen Rania's Foundation. She is working closely with the edX team and has performed a great deal of research on the MOOC trend, which she believes is "democratizing access" to high quality education.

"We want to make sure the Arab world is caught up," she said. So the foundation reached out to the president of edX, Anant Agarwal, who agreed to provide them with up to 15 video courses a year. "We can adapt them and Arabize them," Al-Attia said.

The foundation plans to provide funding to Edraak in the next few years so it can build recognition across the Middle East. According to Al-Attia, her team is contacting with local universities for partnerships and encouraging them to upload their best courses to Edraak.

Queen Rania's team is taking a different approach than many of the U.S.-based online education providers. It will enhance the current education and technology system, not topple it.

Al-Attia believes that women will benefit most the new online education. She was heartened to discover that young girls in Saudi Arabia are voraciously consuming educational videos on YouTube, which demonstrates their desire to learn.

Internet access is particularly scarce in remote and rural areas and it will be a challenge for Edraak to reach to some of the region's poorest people who are most in need of an affordable education. Al-Attia plans to partner with "community-based organizations" which can offer a computer hub to people who do not have Internet access at home.

In Jordan, for instance, the Jesuit Refugee Service recently built an educational center to help thousands of Syrian refugees, who can sign up for finance, accounting, and tourism courses online. The goal is to bring a sense of normalcy to their lives and help the refugees of that civil war secure decent jobs or higher-education opportunities.

In addition, Coursera recently adopted a similar strategy as it expands into emerging nations. Coursera's Learning Hubs initiative provides physical places for online learners in Kenya, the Philippines, and other countries. Equipped with an Internet connection, these are typically empty rooms in embassies and universities.

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