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Coronavirus: In the Middle East, education comes first

At a time when the new coronavirus pandemic - or COVID19 - is pushing governments around the world to take drastic measures, there is one institution that, above all others, that undergoing massive organizational changes: schools. According to scientists, children and young adults are indeed the populations that best spread the virus. However, if it is obviously necessary to contain the spread of the disease, how can we ensure that our "little darlings" continue to have access to quality education?

The challenge of online courses in Saudi universities

With the closure of schools and universities throughout the kingdom, Saudi leaders have favored the implementation of a system of online courses. This is done through various tools specializing in e-learning technologies, such as the international virtual learning platform Blackboard Learn, the virtual school platform Vschool.sa, as well as tools sold in Apple and Android stores… In addition, courses are provided by the television channel “Ain” and on YouTube. The Saudi Telecom Company (STC) has announced that it will allow free Internet browsing for these educational platforms.

 

 

It cannot be said, however, that these measures are received with the same enthusiasm by the population at large. While many people are pleased to be able to “attend their classes in their pyjamas”, or “save two hours of daily commuting,” others are not rejoicing over those factors. Between the technical malfunctions, the inability for the teaching staff to adapt to the technology, or the impossibility for the digital training to provide individualized support on a case-by-case basis, the formula is still far from perfect. This was to be expected, since we are dealing with temporary, emergency measures in response to an unprecedented situation. A period of adjustment is certainly necessary.

 

In Egypt, school attendance is soaring

It seems as though the psychosis hasn’t reached the land of the pharaohs. According to official sources from the Ministry of Education, the school attendance rate is currently above average, despite parents’ requests to interrupt the school year from fear of the coronavirus spreading further. The Minister of Education, Tarek Shakwy, denied claims that the schools would be closed soon, but announced that if that were to happen, classes would simply be paused. No progression (validation of a current year) or academic “backsliding” (repetition) would be allowed.

 

In the United Arab Emirates, distance learning returns in full force

School closures began this week in the UAE as part of a wider strategy to contain the Covid-19 outbreak. These school closures highlight educational technology and its ability to replace the physical classroom. This is a litmus test for one of the most promising and important areas of technology. Long shunned in the UAE, distance learning is making a comeback. The first week’s program included an introduction to the use of collaborative tools such as Google Docs and Slides, to facilitate the completion of group work.

 

In addition, platforms such as Alef Education in Abu Dhabi are taking advantage of advances in automatic learning to give students, teachers and parents real-time feedback and adapt lessons accordingly.

In addition, e-learning allows for optimal responsiveness. Starting next Sunday, schools will be implementing a comprehensive e-learning programme for students in subjects ranging from algebra to physical education.

However, technology is not an end in itself. Many argue that young people learn and retain less when they use a screen in comparison to reading and writing ,calling for a need to diversify tools for learning. In the absence of the school, the role of families becomes crucial…