Q atar Foundation established Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) in 2006 as part of its ongoing commitment to establish Qatar as a knowledge-based economy. Qatar Foundation views research as essential to national and regional growth; as the means to diversify the nation’s economy, enhance educational offerings and develop areas that affect the community, such as health and environment. 

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أنشأت مؤسسة قطر الصندوق القطري لرعاية البحث العلمي عام 2006 كجزء من التزامها المستمر بإقامة الاقتصاد القائم على المعرفة في دولة قطر. وتولي مؤسسة قطر للبحوث أهمية قصوى استنادًا إلى دورها الحيوي في تحقيق النمو سواء داخل قطر أو على الصعيد الإقليمي، وكونها وسيلة لتنويع اقتصاد البلاد، وتعزيز الفرص التعليمية، وتطوير المجالات المؤثرة في المجتمع كالصحة والبيئة.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023 11:44 PM Doha Time

An Alternative Remote Learning Educational Model for Autistic Children in Qatar

An Alternative Remote Learning Educational Model for Autistic Children in Qatar

QNRF-funded project ensures educational continuity through an interactive virtual solution

The COVID-19 pandemic has been termed the largest disruption in the history of education, according to a recent policy brief by the United Nations. The brief, which focuses on education during COVID-19 and beyond, estimates that a staggering 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries across all continents have been affected due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Urgent action is needed to ensure educational continuity and, while some policies have been devised to give relief to learners and educators in the present, there should be a strong focus on creating robust policies to be prepared for the future. Moreover, the needs of students with intellectual and development disabilities should be specially considered when devising alternative educational models.

To build such models, initiatives that bring relevant stakeholders together and provide them with the necessary support are crucial. One such initiative by Qatar National Research Fund is the Rapid Response Call (RRC).

In the May edition of our newsletter, we discussed the aims of Dr. Dena Al Thani, Assistant Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, and her team’s RRC-funded project titled, “Mixed-Reality Interactive Educational Platform to Support Remote Learning for Children with Autism” (Project ID: RRC-3-010). In this article, we will look closely at this success story and learn how the project has progressed and what the developed form of the interactive platform has to offer.

In a period of three months, the research team has successfully designed, implemented, and evaluated an interactive educational platform that utilizes the role of mixed-reality (real-time teaching and virtual teaching) to enable remote learning for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The platform, implemented by Dr. Younss Ait Mou, a software engineer at HBKU, and Yasmin Abdelaal, a research assistant for the project, has been developed in both the Arabic and English languages and provides the instruction in both audio and text to cater to children with reading difficulties.

Dr. Al Thani’s team also collaborated with industry experts and special education and assistive technology centers in Qatar, namely Mada Assistive Technology Center and Shafallah, to build their platform. The interactive technology solutions enable a child to learn in real-time and allows the teachers and parents to communicate through the platform. However, the learning does not stop if the teacher is absent because ‘Marvoc,’ a specially developed virtual robot, becomes the online teacher.

Moreover, the platform supports the learning of letters and words in an interactive environment through different levels. The child can either scan a letter card using the device camera (Figure 1) or manual selection of a letter through the standard keyboard (Figure 2). Once scanned or clicked, a 3D model of the word is created (Figure 3).

In addition to general learning, educational games have been designed to develop students’ skills in identifying emotions, shapes, colors, and 3D models (Figures 4 and 5). Marvoc’s helpful presence on all screens makes the experience more user-friendly, and the students are also provided with audio and textual descriptions for assistance. Moreover, contextual help is always present to help the children at any stage.

The team has received remarkable feedback throughout three expert walkthrough evaluation sessions, conducted by team members Ms. Yamsin Abdelaal, Ms. Asma Hassan, Dr. Kamran Khowaja, and Mr. Mohamad Hijab from Mada Assistive Technology Center, Shafallah Center, and the Learning Center at Qatar Foundation, respectively. Similarly, the project has gained stellar feedback from speech therapists and special education teachers, who think such a project is exactly what they have been eager to see for their students.

One of the recommendations provided by the UN policy brief is to, ‘Build Resilient Education Systems for Equitable and Sustainable Development.’ Dr. Al-Thani’s and her team’s project does exactly that, and its successful outcomes will not only benefit autistic students in Qatar, but can be implemented in the region and across the world to ensure that the learning process of any student is never compromised.

«March 2023»