Oman embarks on development of K-12 AI curricula with support of UNESCO and RCEP

UNESCO, with the support of the regional office for Gulf States & Yemen in Doha and the Regional Center for Educational Planning (RCEP) in Sharjah, supported the first of a series of workshops on 24 and 25 May 2022 with the Ministry of Education of Oman. The two-day workshop aimed at developing the capacities of the national curriculum developers in integrating AI competencies into the national K-12 curriculum and/or institutional programmes.

The first day was dedicated to the sharing of key information on existing K-12 AI curricula and main findings related to the development and implementation of the AI curriculum in K-12 by AI experts from UNESCO and its partners. The second day was dedicated to the analysis of the situation of the country on digital and/or AI competencies development for K-12 students as well as the assessment and definition of the needs to direct the further development of the AI curriculum. More than 25 participants from the Ministry of Education of Oman joined the two-day online workshop.

The opening session, chaired by Fengchun Miao, Chief of the Unit for Technology and AI in Education at UNESCO, saw interventions by representatives from UNESCO, RCEP, the Oman Commission for Education, Culture and Science, and Ericsson Oman.

Dr. Mahmood Al Abri, Assistant Secretary of the Oman Commission for Education, Culture and Science, stressed the important steps taken by Oman in the field of AI, including the international conference on the Fourth Industrial Revolution organized by the Ministry in 2019 and its active involvement in the Beijing Consensus on AI and Education adopted in May 2019. The Sultanate of Oman also took part the same year in the discussions at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on the importance of adopting an international charter on the ethics of AI. The Assistant Secretary added, “After the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to use distance education to avoid interrupting the educational process, the Ministry of Education focused on developing IT curricula, to increase students’ motivation towards learning and to develop the learners’ skills necessary to keep pace with the rapid deployment of technology in the world. The Ministry also adopted information technology for the first grades of primary school, in cooperation with international institutions specialized in this field, to build an interactive curriculum by enhancing it with interactive digital technologies, such as augmented reality technology and interactive games.”

The opening session included a speech by Mahra Al Mutaiwei, Director of UNESCO’s RCEP in the United Arab Emirates, and some introductory remarks by Salah Khaled, Director of the UNESCO Gulf States & Yemen Office, delivered on his behalf. The newly appointed Director of the regional office reminded participants that “similar to our last joint event with RCEP and UNESCO HQ, this is only the first step and the first stage of a process that will lead to integrating appropriate AI competencies for learners in all grades from early learning to secondary education in the Sultanate of Oman.”

The first day of the training programme included two working sessions monitored by Farida Aboudan, Programme Specialist from the UNESCO Gulf States & Yemen Office. The first session focused on ensuring AI as a common good for SDG4 and was conducted by Fengchun Miao from UNESCO and Wayne Holmes from the Institute of Education at the University College of London in the United Kingdom. Zohra Yermeche, Director of the Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Program at Ericsson, presented the activities and resources developed in the framework of the cooperation between Ericsson and UNESCO on teaching AI for K-12 to enable UNESCO’s member states to invest these technologies in the field of education. Kelly Shiohira from JET Education Services presented the findings of the UNESCO report on K-12 AI curricula: a mapping of government-endorsed AI curricula.

Noha Al-Omari, Education Specialist in the Department of curriculum and learning resources in the State of Qatar, presented the experience of Qatari schools in integrating artificial intelligence into Qatari curricula. Juliette Waters, Chief Learning Officer from Digital Moment in Canada, presented their project to eradicate algorithms and data illiteracy among children, by raising awareness and educating children in this field with the aim of enabling them to exercise critical thinking while dealing with the virtual world.

The second day was dedicated to the analysis of the situation of the country on digital and/or AI competencies development for K-12 students, as well as assessment and definition of the needs to inform the further development of the AI curriculum. The second day included a presentation on the identified gaps, current needs and plans related to the national AI curriculum development by Maimoona Alabri, Director of E-Learning and E-Content Department at the Ministry of Education of Oman. It was followed by breakout group discussions around four topics: curriculum development and endorsement, curriculum integration and management, essential conditions for supporting AI curricula, and AI curricula content and learning outcomes. Each breakout session was followed by an interactive discussion between the participants and the experts.

To conclude this first workshop, Maimoona Alabri from the Ministry of Education of Oman, Mahra Al Mutaiwie, Director of RCEP, and Alameera Hashmi, Ericsson Oman Center of Excellence Manager, offered some closing remarks and laid out the next steps. Follow up workshops are planned to frame the national K-12 AI curricula and plan the development, endorsement and implementation.