Alef Education is a global leading education technology company based in the United Arab Emirates. The company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to create personalised learning experiences to transform how the world is being educated. Since its inception in 2015, Alef Education has positively impacted the learning experiences of more than 120,000 students in over 400 schools in the United Arab Emirates, United States of America, and Canada. In June this year, more than 500,000 students in Indonesia’s madrasah schools will have access to the Alef Platform. The company also has aggressive growth plans in place for markets like Egypt, Lebanon, Netherlands, and many more. “Looking ahead, there are many exciting developments now in progress that will enable Alef Education to continue our growth, not just geographically, but also within the education sector itself, where we anticipate not just schools, but higher education institutions as well becoming users of the platform,” says Geoffrey Alphonso, Chief Executive Officer, Alef Education. In a conversation with K12 Digest, Geoffrey Alphonso talks about Alef Education’s offerings to educational institutions, opportunities he sees in the education market post-COVID, exciting innovations that we can expect from Alef Education in the next 12 months, and much more.
What has been the impact of technology on education during this pandemic? How is Alef Education responding to it?
Technology has had a very positive impact on the education sector during the pandemic. It has allowed schools to continue delivering lessons as per their curriculum, allowed parents to continue educating their children while enabling students to continue learning by accessing a variety of online, distance learning tools, such as Alef Education’s award-winning digital learning platform.
For us at Alef Education, the health and safety of students and teachers are our primary concern; and we place the same importance on their love for learning. At the onset of the pandemic, we responded swiftly and strategically. We provided free and immediate online access to some of our digital learning products to students worldwide, providing millions of students the opportunity to continue learning. Schools may have closed, but we at Alef Education are ensuring that education must go on.
We are honoured that our initiative was featured on the UNESCO website as a part of its global list of learning platforms and tools available freely for anyone around the globe. The UNESCO estimates that the pandemic has impacted 1.5 billion students due to the closure of schools in 190 countries throughout the world. Our response has helped address the situation by giving students from any location with Internet connection access to our platform, enabling them to learn independently or with tools such as Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams, which are all enabled in our platform and can be accessed easily with a single sign-on. These tools allowed teachers to deliver remote classes using the curriculum-aligned lessons and content available on our platform.
As an EdTech company, what are the significant challenges Alef Education faced when educational institutions move to fully online courses?
It mostly has to do with helping schools with their technical infrastructure and onboarding teachers who are sometimes not confident enough that they have the right technical or digital skills to implement it.
To ensure the success of the Alef Platform, we provide schools and teachers with the support that they need to fully optimise their use of the platform. From IT installation and configuration to training for teachers to help them adopt new technology tools in their classrooms. Our service includes end-to-end project management to ensure schools can manage their transition to digital distance learning.
Our commitment also includes a hotline that teachers and parents can call if they have any concerns or issues.
As part of our quality commitment to the schools that we work with, we always find ways to improve the technical capacity of our platform to ensure seamless delivery of modules while also ensuring our content conforms to recognised government and education standards of quality, relevance, and culture sensitivity.
Tell us a bit about the founding story of Alef Education. How has been the journey so far?
Our journey started in 2015 when we conceptualised our platform. In 2016, we launched an artificial intelligence (AI) powered digital learning platform that was then used by just eight students in a micro-school here in the United Arab Emirates. The impact was inspirational as the students were achieving better learning outcomes, and their teachers were becoming less burdened with non-teaching tasks and were able to focus more on their students. We realised that the platform had the potential to become a transformational agent for change, not just for schools but for the education ecosystem.
Today, Alef Education is a leading global education technology provider that delivers tailored digital learning experiences that empowers the future 21st-century workforce. Following the success of our initial pilot program, we continue to revolutionise the education industry and positively impact the learning experiences of more than 120,000 students in over 400 schools in the UAE, the US, and Canada. In June this year, more than 500,000 students in Indonesia’s madrasah schools will have access to the Alef Platform.
In 2019, Alef Education won the Ai Everything Brave Award for our innovative use of AI in education. Our cutting-edge digital platform uses AI to effectively create optimal learning paths for individual students, thus personalising the education experience. In 2020, Alef Education was named a 2020 SIIA CODiE Award finalist in the Best Use of Emerging Technology for Learning in Education category. This was a special recognition given that the CODiE Awards is the only peer-recognised program in the business and ed tech industries.
Alef Education is now also expanding its services beyond the K-12 sector. We recently signed a partnership with a university in the UAE, whereby our platform will be used by their students and teachers initially for a few subjects with a view to expanding the coverage at some point later.
Looking ahead, there are many exciting developments now in progress that will enable Alef Education to continue our growth, not just geographically, but also within the education sector itself, where we anticipate not just schools, but higher education institutions as well becoming users of the platform.
Tell us about the unique products and services Alef Education offers to educational institutions. How does the company intend to stand out from the crowd?
Alef Education is the preferred choice by a growing number of schools worldwide due to the unparalleled and powerful combination of high-value, standards-aligned content powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Our cutting-edge products and services are powered by an impeccable team of professionals driven by a singular focus to make a difference and deliver our vision to deliver engaging learning experiences that change how the world is educated.
Our flagship product, the Alef Platform, is mainly for the K-12 education sector and is an AI-driven platform that creates personalised learning experiences for students and has also been instrumental in helping students achieve better learning outcomes. Equally important, it has also been beneficial for educators as it frees up valuable time spent on non-teaching tasks that they can now use to focus on mentoring or coaching their students. The real-time data generated by the platform relays relevant and timely feedback that helps enable this transformative process and has been a critical part of the platform’s success.
Our portfolio also includes Abjadiyat, an Arabic learning app for kids, and Arabits, a mobile app for Arabic language learners. Abjadiyat is a native Arabic K-4 early learners’ program that we offer through schools in the UAE. On the other hand, the Arabits app is on the Google Play Store, and the Apple App Store is available directly to consumers. It was launched in January this year and has already reached 65,000+ downloads.
How has the performance of Alef Education been in the last few years? What has been the progress of the business?
It is overwhelming when we look back at where we started and where we are now within just a few years of operating. Alef Education expects to touch close to a million students by the end of 2021, and that has demonstrated our ability to turn a concept into reality and learners on a global scale.
Beyond the numbers, however, what really drives us as an organisation is our endeavour to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers all around the world. We believe that our platform is truly transforming the education ecosystem in more ways than we originally intended. It’s been a humbling experience that inspires us to learn and continue to innovate our products and services.
At Alef Education, how are you trying to drive employee engagement and keep up the positive spirit?
We believe that our people are our best asset, and we have a strong employee engagement program that looks after their well-being, whether they are in the office or working remotely. Employee well-being is of paramount importance, so we have many initiatives in place that keep them motivated and happy.
Among these include giving our employees the opportunity to work remotely or in the office and having flexible working schedules. To foster better communication, we conduct regular town hall meetings to facilitate interaction; we also set up an email where employees can share ideas, initiatives, or questions, and this also already yielded some great results.
To foster greater camaraderie and well-being, we also organise regular mindfulness sessions. Before the pandemic, the company sponsored football games, team activities, and seasonal events. The latest series of initiatives we have implemented to support our employees include financial support for independent training and increasing transparency in compensation practices, especially concerning performance and decision making.
Employee feedback is regularly measured through feedback and surveys – on average, Alef Education employees believe their opinions count (84%), believe their manager cares about them as a person (88%), understand what they are responsible to achieve (96%), and believe that the ways we communicate together are productive (95%).
What are the top qualities and skills you are looking for when hiring at Alef Education?
The skill sets vary according to job functions, so there is a wide range of skills that we look for across our business units and teams. As for qualities, we look for people who are driven to make a difference in our community, committed to providing high-quality customer service, and delivering an excellent customer experience, both internally and externally.
As a company, we also put a premium on innovation, so we look for people who contribute to our culture of innovation. This is very critical to our continued progress, as the minute we stop innovating is when we begin to stop being the best for our customers.
Post-COVID-19, what are the opportunities Alef Education sees in the education market?
Looking ahead, we see schools embracing digital distance learning as one of the primary methods for the delivery of education. We are, therefore, intensifying our efforts to reach out to schools in key education markets around the world to share with them the benefits of distance learning, especially if they use the Alef Platform.
While our focus will be on K-12 schools, we are also looking to serve a broader spectrum of educational institutions in our key markets, which includes colleges and universities.
What kinds of technologies would you recommend school systems to adopt in the post-pandemic world?
There is a multitude of technological tools and applications that are currently available, and each one addresses a particular need or serves a particular function. But as we see education moving to an online/distance learning environment, it would be best for schools to invest in technologies that will help them offer a seamless learning experience for students. Moreover, your technology partner should ensure that teachers have the requisite skills to harness these technologies in the best way possible in their classrooms. If not, adequate measures should be taken to provide appropriate training so teachers are geared for success.
What marketing strategies is Alef Education using at the moment and would recommend to other EdTech companies?
Our marketing team has done a wonderful job of communicating about the brand to our target audience and has been instrumental in providing our sales team with the right support for our growth initiatives to succeed. We employ a variety of marketing tools and use marketing best practices in ensuring we achieve both our business and communication objectives.
What exciting things can we expect from Alef Education in the next 12 months?
We hope to continue making progress on our international growth plan, so hopefully, we can share more good news about new educational institutions being onboarded onto the Alef Platform soon.
I believe we have a robust suite of products and services and exceptional use-cases that we can bring to those markets where we hope to establish a presence. Given our strong focus on constant innovation, our product development team is dedicated to enhancing our existing products and services, and ideating new developments. We are constantly exploring and developing ways to make digital learning better, so it is possible we will have some exciting announcements to share in the near future.
What is your advice to the educational institutions that are looking for a technology partner?
Look for a partner who is committed as they are to the success of the students. Technology is always available, and there will always be something that they can use in their schools. But a partner who is invested in their success is someone who will be with them in the long-term and will provide the service needed long after cheques have been cashed, as it were.
Track record is also vital and something that they should seriously consider whenever qualifying or evaluating a partner. It may be worth talking to some independent references or resources to give them an idea of how a company delivers on its commitments and promises.
Finally, experience is also essential. A company that knows how to do its job well and is immersed in the ed-tech sector is a better option than those just starting to do the business or is just representing a service provider.