Arabs Implement Online Education to Control Pandemic

Measures Offer Comprehensive and Equitable Learning
Arham al-Khateeb, an Arabic teacher at a Kuwaiti school, gives an online class to students via laptop while sitting in an empty classroom on the first day of school, at an educational facility in Kuwait City on October 4, 2020.

Some Arab countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have decided to execute online learning in their varied educational institutions as part of restrictions imposed to control the spread of the Covid-19. Egypt has offered a flexible system of education that helps parents choose either lessons at school or online learning.

“Online education is a good system so as to avoid coronavirus infections. My children attend private lessons at home and use online education at the same time,” Saied Salama, an Egyptian parent, told Majalla.

“They have become accustomed to this approach by which they are learning very well,” he noted, hoping that the Covid-19 would end as soon as possible to help people live a normal life. “Studying at schools nowadays is risky so I keep my children at home,” he said.

Parents in Egypt are satisfied with this move which helps them choose the most appropriate way for their conditions, yet they complain about the system which requires the first academic semester’s exam to be conducted within days.  

“We were ready for exams, but the Ministry of Higher Education postponed it until the end of the mid-year vacation. We want online exams as we had online learning to avoid infections. We are worried about ourselves and our relatives if we attend exams at universities,” said Mohammad El-Dawnasi, a university student. 

Yara Osama, a student in the Faculty of Medicine, said online learning helps students concentrate more but she is afraid of face-to-face exams.

“I prefer online learning amid coronavirus as it protects students from possible infections,” she told Majalla.

Ms. Osama complained about the great amount of study for exams as students will be examined in whole modules and each one has eight subjects.

“Our Faculty has no system for online exams. I hope for this move but it is not possible nowadays. I have a lot of study but try to do my best,” she made clear. 

A few days ago, the UAE declared continued distance learning at all public and private schools as well as higher education institutions as a precaution to safeguard students from the pandemic. The country has been implementing this system since March 2020 within the framework of measures taken to control the virus. The country has conducted professional training for school teachers and allowed private schools to use their own distance learning system. In addition, it has launched smart learning platforms together with guidelines and instruction manuals to manage students’ behavior on distance learning. 

Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti government announced last Monday the continuation of online learning at all educational institutions until situation stabilises in the country. The government said that it is an alternative to regular education which has been implemented for the safety of all students and staff at educational institutions.

Although online education is compulsorily imposed due to the virus, there is a debate on the move.

Some say that the step was successful but still requires further development to achieve all desired goals. However, others still prefer regular education due to its several benefits, as they say, even during the pandemic.

“Regular education comes first compared with any other methods of instruction. Online learning does not help students get all information due to many reasons,” Ahmed Abu Al-Amayem, a chemistry teacher in Kuwait, told Majalla.

Online learning doesn’t control the educational process as students are not acquainted with the tools and technology used by teachers during class, he noted.

“The Ministry of Education should set a strategy on dividing classrooms into sub-classrooms with up to 15 students in each sub-class, with adherence to all precautionary measures for the safety of both students and all staff at educational institutions,” suggested Abu Al-Amayem, aged 48 years. 

It is not difficult to implement this strategy to ensure full benefits to students as it has been used successfully in several countries, he argued.

“Every group attends school three days instead of five, and this will help students adapt to the current conditions and increase their understanding of the subject matter,” he said.

Mona Mohamed, 34 years, set a successful plan regarding e-learning to help her children keep pace with the new lessons that they will learn.

“I have worked with my children as if I were a teacher. I organize their time and set discipline. It was a hectic job in the beginning, but they learned how to use tools and sit with a laptop for long periods of time,” she told Majalla.

However, Mohamed expressed empathy with parents who have problems using the new tools of online learning as they have been relying on regular education and tutors who give private lessons to their children at home in parallel with school.

The Saudi Ministry of Education declared the continuation of distance learning to curb the coronavirus infection, lauding the success made in the e-platform implemented in the first academic year. 

An Egyptian expat in Saudi Arabia was complaining about the inability of helping his children get online learning due to his work.

“I can’t depend on online learning for my children as this needs much time to work with them. I work from 7:00 am until 5:00pm every day. I have no time to sit with each child separately, help him/her do homework and explain some points. School was playing this role,” he told Majalla on condition of anonymity.

“My children take private lessons given by some teachers, taking into consideration all preventive and precautionary measures set by the Kingdom’s bodies. The session includes up to five students and I think it is suitable and safe for people who have similar conditions,” he explained.

Mohamed Auda, a director of a Kuwaiti private school, said there are some problems facing teachers explaining lessons while using devices and stressed that distance learning is necessary in light of the Covid-19.

“Some teachers are not able to deal with the tools when they explain lessons to students. But we have no other options at these conditions. Outstanding students highly benefit from online learning,” he told Majalla.

He asserted, however, that online learning is not an alternative to direct education at schools but people have to temporarily depend on it until the pandemic is controlled.

In a related context, Faisal Al-Maqsid, Acting Undersecretary of Kuwait’s Ministry of Education, has previously revealed that, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry has sought to back all steps aimed at making change for a comprehensive and equitable learning. 

He said that the positive outcomes of online learning over the last period were registered and had overcome challenges through training, implementing and following up within the educational system.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented shift in Kuwait as this sudden change has affected more than 400,000 students studying at primary, intermediate and secondary stages, said Mr. Al-Maqsid.

Some governmental sources in Kuwait have previously said that regular study will not be resumed at educational institutions until 65 percent of people receive coronavirus vaccine or in the event of an improvement in the epidemiological situation. 

When resuming study, the sources added, all health measures for the safety of students will be taken, with the setting of a mechanism to be implemented in cooperation with several governmental bodies.

Finally, getting excellent service from online learning depends on some factors such as the speed of the Internet, educational institutions’ infrastructure, as well as the skills of teachers and students in using educational tools.

Apart from the above-mentioned countries which are implementing online learning, Jordan declared last week a face-to-face education system in three phases: the first one was last Sunday; the second will start next Sunday; and the third will begin on March 7. The move was taken after coronavirus infections dropped, according to governmental statements. At the same time, the Ministry of Education gave the option to parents to decide whether they wanted online learning or face-to-face education.