The surge of EdTech startups in the Middle East amidst a pandemic

Shilpa Chandran discusses the surge in EdTech startups in the Middle East during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The surge of EdTech startups in the Middle East amidst a pandemic

While the coronavirus pandemic crippled the world with fear and uncertainty, affecting businesses and livelihood across the globe, certain sections of the economy are seeing a revival.

The EdTech sector has seen a sudden growth spurt since the outbreak of the virus, and many forecast that it is here to stay. Several startups have been catering to the needs of parents, teachers and schools, while many more are now emerging in the market to cater to various other training and development requirements.

Industry research shows EdTech funding deals having risen significantly in numbers last year as compared to the past few years. The global EdTech market size was valued at $76.4 billion in 2019, and is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 18.1% from 2020-2027. However, of the record $20 million invested in the EdTech startup sector in 2019, the Middle East received only $1.26 million, startup and investor platform Magnitt observed.

The Middle East in particular has seen a welcoming surge in EdTech startups and in online learning and development, much thanks to the steady growth the sector is witnessing in recent years.

A study released in 2019 by Kenneth Research noted that the Middle East online education market was expected to expand at a CAGR of 9.8% during the forecast period 2017-2023. The study said that this growth was likely to be driven by sizeable government investments and rapid adoption of online education and e-learning by educational institutes and corporate organisations.

“If anything, the pandemic has bridged and boosted the market size,” said Ahmed Faraj, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Bahrain-based Lumofy. “Prior to the pandemic, learning digital transformation in this era of world was something that needed a lot of awareness and education to illustrate how this approach will dramatically decrease on learning expenditures. The pandemic created a real push in educating the Learning & Development departments in how to shift from instructor-led learning to online learning.

“Since July 2020, the demand on B2B EdTech solutions has dramatically increased from all perspectives, from the point of potential clients approaching us or by getting requests from network partners to be our re-seller. We believe this region is getting fitter in adopting our solutions.”

Victoria James, events director of education exhibition, Bett MEA, said: “EdTech and digital strategy is quickly becoming embedded into every decision taken throughout schools. Although we have been evangelising the transformational value of technology in schools and universities for many years, COVID has been the single biggest disruptor of traditional education in living history, and has seen the meteoric rise of user numbers for almost any tech organisation that supports home learning. That includes some very niche products in reading or handwriting, but also amazing products that can have a huge impact on teaching for marginalised communities or handling huge and varied class sizes as required in deprived areas.”

UK-based GoBubble, part of the Dubai Future Foundation “Future of Education” cohort with the Dubai Future Accelerator, witnessed staggering registrations since the beginning of the year.

CEO Henry Platten said: “The driving motivation for any EdTech organisation should always be one of supporting the education community. Whilst the sector globally has been emerging for years, 2020 has thrust it into the spotlight – especially by involving parents in the mix more.

“During the first half of 2020 at GoBubble we saw a massive 400% increase in registered schools across the UAE, and more than 45 new countries coming online too into the platform. This surge has not abated in the third quarter of 2020. The key ingredients for any startups at this time are strong relationships with teachers, and finding and solving a real need post COVID. With the increase in businesses, the market becomes more sophisticated – especially valuing the safety of the entire community and saving time.”

Zedny is an Egypt-based startup that offers Arabic e-learning platform that offers professional development courses. The startup aims to help empower the Arabic-speaking community at large with more than 500 hours of course content. In June this year, the company launched a $1.2 million pre-seed investment with Arabic online text and video content.

Basil Khattab, co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) of Zedny, said: “Since we are the only comprehensive platform which develops skills in Arabic as the mother tongue of the absolute majority, we have found a big shift happening on the private sector as well as the public one. Our key focus is B2B in phase 1 and we believe we are in a new world today (post covid-19) where if you are not online then you will be offline and possibly out of business. We are excited and accepting the challenge by offering full library of content subscription with a built in LMS for the corporates with their employees at a cost of less than one training course offline.”

Nearly 200 countries around the world closed down schools on the onset of the pandemic, leaving parents, teachers, schools and educators grappling for solutions to ensure continuity of learning for children and older students.

While private schools are working towards updating their digital footprint with newer technologies and tools, governments are working towards building sustainable systems to facilitate education. The EdTech startups are the fillers in this category that helps in the reach and in the continuity of learning for all.  It is this situation which has led to a surge in the number of EdTech startups in the Middle East.  

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