The continued growth of social media in the Arab region has facilitated innovations by individuals, created new horizons for government entities and new social trends by Arab societies. Under the title 'Transforming Education in the Arab World: Breaking Barriers in the Age of Social Learning', the 5th edition of the Arab Social Media Report series was launched by the Dubai School of Government's Governance and Innovation Programme.
In addition to analyzing patterns, demographic breakdowns and usage trends of social media platforms in the Arab region, this edition of the report focuses on the impact of social media on education and life-long learning in the region.
The Governance and Innovation Programme at DSG conducted a regional survey with around 4000 participants, exploring perceptions about the quality of schooling in the region, the use of technology and social media in the classroom at different educational levels, interruptions to schooling due to conflict, as well as views on educational reform.
In terms of technology and social media use in the classroom, 55% of the teachers who responded to the survey said they use social media as a classroom resource, while 10% of the parents surveyed indicated that their children have access to social media platforms in the classroom, and more than half said their children's classrooms do not incorporate technological tools. In contrast, nearly 56% of the parents are concerned with the distractions social media cause to their children.
The research also surveyed parents in Arab countries suffering from political instabilities, violence and civil strife. Around 68% of respondents in these countries said that online resources can help their children catch up on material lost due to short or long interruption in schooling.
Fadi Salem, Director of the Governance and Innovation Programme at the Dubai School of Government and co-author of the report, said, "With more than 55 million active Arab users of Facebook and 3.7 million of Twitter, social media is already playing a growing role in formal and informal education, on-demand training and in capacity building. Education in the Arab World suffers from extensive challenges in terms of quality and access. However, education is one domain where social media has become widely institutionalized with a critical mass of Arab users. The emergence of new concepts like 'social learning', 'intelligent decision making networks' and 'massive open online courses', is enabling educators, students and educational institutions to rely on social media tools to create innovative approaches to education, capacity building and knowledge transfer in the Arab region." The report is the latest of the series spearheaded by the Governance and Innovation Programme at the Dubai School of Government. The findings of this edition reveal that Arabic language continues to be the fastest growing language on different social media platforms globally. For example, the percentage of Arabic tweets generated reached 74% of total tweets in the region in March 2013, up from 62% a year ago.
Facebook registered an increase of 10 million users between June 2012 and May 2013. The number of active Twitter users in the Arab World has also grown exponentially from just over 2 million to 3.7 million in the past year. In March 2013, Arab Twitter users generated 336 million tweets - almost double the number of tweets generated in March 2012. The report additionally states that the number of LinkedIn users in select Arab countries stands now close to 5 million.
Analyzing demographics, the report reveals that the UAE continues to score the highest amongst all Arab countries in terms of Facebook penetration at 41%, while Egypt claims around 25% of Arab Facebook users and Saudi Arabia has more than half 50% of the Arab active Twitter users. However, for the first time, most GCC countries saw a drop in social media adoption for the first time in 2013.
Racha Mourtada, Research Associate with the Governance and Innovation Programme and co-author of the report, said, "With such growth, educators, parents and students viewed the role of social media in education positively, whether for enhancing student competencies or reducing the time and costs associated with traditional educational practices. For example, 82% of the respondents agree that social media could be useful for the integration of students with special needs, enabling them to better express themselves and interact with teachers and other students as peers." For the first time, the report also analyzed the Twitter activity of selected official government accounts. In line with the rapid growth of Arabic language on social media, the findings also reveal that Arabic is the preferred language for Twitter conversations among government entities and their respective Twitter followers in the Arab region.