By Joel Popoola

The young leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world who congregated at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh (MGF23) were shown a glimpse of the future, as educational esports pioneers, EStars, unveiled a new model for educating students in the MENA region.

Commissioned by Riyadh Schools, the Classroom of the Future provides a template for reinventing education. Using the best-emerging technologies coupled with innovations from the world of esports and the best teaching practices, the Classroom of the Future empowers students to fully embrace opportunities in the new knowledge-based economies into which they are growing up.

Footballers Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson showed up as holograms, while stars like two-time world champion boxer, Amir Khan, esports influencer Brandon Smith, world-famous physicist Dr. Michio Kaku and Saudi astronauts, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Alqarni appeared in person.

Featuring robotics, AI, gaming, virtual reality, and holograms within a carefully controlled setting (optimal lighting, scent and temperature) to engage learning, the Classroom of the Future wowed guests with its groundbreaking take on classroom design.

Interactive presentations were delivered by esteemed partners including National Geographic, Aramco, Adidas and the United Nations; while prominent backers from sport, including England stars Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson, and Dutch footballers Tim Krul and Marco Bizot, delivered motivational and thought-provoking messages as holograms.

The genesis of the Classroom of the Future idea came from a meeting between Dr Terence Brady, the curriculum director for Riyadh Schools, and Mags Byrne the CEO of EStars, the leaders in educational esports.

“How can we prepare young people while teaching them in the classrooms of the past, or even the present, if they are still in the industrial model?” said Dr Brady. “Mags Byrne of EStars and I sat down together about a year ago and said – esports labs, technology and ideas. If we merge them together, we can deliver the future for young people. We thought big, and we acted. Hopefully we now move to phase two, move this to a real classroom and see it in action. And most importantly we will see young people progressing and achieving through it.”

The classroom was designed after extensive research and the input of expert consultants in the technology and education fields. The classroom is designed to create the ideal, flexible, optimised learning space. It’s not just the sporadic addition of technology lessons. It starts from a reset of the fundamentals – the acoustics, lighting, and environmental conditions to facilitate learning. It then adds full immersion, advanced humanoid and industrial robots, holograms, next level VR (with sensory glove and Treadmill) and 3D printing/engraving to encourage creative, personalised learning. While many schools do already cover robotics/coding, the EStars Classroom of the Future features a unique holistic approach with next- generation devices. The next iteration can be expanded to integrate AI and biometrics. (An explanatory book by David Kerrigan, EStars Classroom of the Future has been published in both English and Arabic.)

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“Developing the Classroom of the Future with Riyadh Schools has been a brilliant project for EStars”, said CEO, Mags Byrne. “Collectively, we have designed the future; a fully immersive, inclusive and fun classroom. And the reaction of the students was what pleased us all the most. They want to embrace technology and study new subjects such as esports. It has been a very exciting few months for EStars”.

Formed in the United Kingdom, with a flagship office in the Creative Hub, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, EStars has been generating significant buzz in the education and esports sectors through their three award-winning business strands: the educational Esports Club, BTEC qualifications and room design, build and maintenance.

This buzz, culminating in the unveiling of the Riyadh Schools’ Classroom of the Future, meant that a steady stream of Saudi government officials, VIPs and celebrities took the time to visit it in person at MGF23.

Former two-time World Champion boxer, Amir Khan, visited the Classroom of the Future and was clearly impressed, commenting: “We know kids today love sports and they love gaming so now it’s about making this part of the curriculum so they can do jobs in the future where they will love what they do”.

Esports influencer Brandon Smith agreed with Khan, sharing aspects of his visit by video with his two million followers on social channels, he commented “It’s not all about playing games – there’s lots of transferrable skills. Just look at the big brands involved and the opportunities in marketing, broadcasting – even esports in the Olympics. Time will prove what a good thing this is for students.” Day 2 of the forum saw Smith present the inaugural lesson in the BTEC in Esports to students from Misk Schools.

EStars is the home of educational esports, with offices in Abu Dhabi from which it covers the Middle East and Africa. Founded in 2017 in the UK by CEO Mags Byrne, EStars is the global leader in educational esports, providing students with the skills they need to succeed in one of the world’s fastest-growing industries.

Encouragingly, Nigeria is strategically positioning itself for a transformative future in education, propelled by EStars’ recent partnerships with leading educational institution, Chrisland Schools in Lagos.

Following the successful completion of a pilot programme earlier in 2023, which saw Chrisland Schools roll out EStars’ educational Esports Club to its students, the relationship was recently formalised through an MoU. The news has swiftly permeated the state, resulting in additional MoUs being signed with institutions like the prestigious Ambassadors College.

Furthermore, numerous schools have committed to taking part in pilot schemes of the educational platform with a view to full integration. While these strides are commendable, there remains an imperative to further capitalise on the relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, taking inspiration from KSA’s pioneering role in shaping the future of education through esports.