Between distance learning from the comfort of their own homes through mobiles, tablets and laptops, and waking up early, getting dressed for school and attending classes, Saudi students, who have resumed their studies at actual school classes and university halls on the 29th of August, have mixed feeling about going back to school after a year and a half of studying at home.
Grade 7-12 (intermediate and secondary schools), vocational schools, high institutes, and universities’ students, who are fully vaccinated, are back to “normal” school life. Students have different opinions; those who are homebodies and used to online classes feel uncomfortable these days, and those who are social feel excited. Some parents believe distance learning saves money and time while others think that real education takes place only offline at actual classrooms.
“I am pretty excited about resuming studies at classrooms. I miss my students and colleagues. After the suspension of attendance to contain the spread of COVID-19 for 3 consecutive semesters, we are finally back to normal. It is not the ‘normal’ we had before Mach 2020, but it is a step in the right direction,” Fatima Mohammed, a Saudi social studies teacher based in Jeddah told Majalla.
“Private education sector investors were hard hit over the past two years. Our salaries were reduced due to the school fees reduction. Students’ parents and guardians won’t pay the same fees for online classes. The sector is picking up again; we are optimistic things are getting better,” she added.
The Saudi Ministry of Education has made it obligatory for Grade 7 students and above to get a double shot of COVID-19 vaccination to go back to classrooms. Students who fail to do so will be considered ‘absent’.
Students from Grade 1 to 6 (elementary schools) will continue their online classes at home until further notice.
Joud, a Grade 2 student, feels totally disappointed. She has never tried the actual classrooms. She joined school last year when the pandemic was at its height when the vaccinations were being tested, but not approved for mass use.
“I want to meet my classmates in person. We just e-meet during classes. It is boring!” Joud expressed her feelings.
Joud’s dad, Khalid, is concerned about the social development of his daughter away from classrooms.
“We have hundreds of thousands of students who do not know how classrooms look like! There must be a negative impact on the social development of little kids. They need to interact with their peers in the real world, not virtually!” he added.
DISTANCE LEARNING LOVERS
The results of a new survey conducted by the Saudi Center of National Opinion Polls has shown that 52% of the population prefer distance learning and 54% have concerns of potential COVID-19 infections.
The results suggest that people are still divided between the fans of classrooms and offline lessons, and distance learning.
“Health concerns are ok; however, only students who got a double shot are allowed to enter schools. This makes parents more assured about the safety of their children. I still prefer online classes for a number of reasons including flexibility, and saving the time and effort needed to drop and pick my kids.”, Abdulmajeed Hassan, an ex-teacher and father of three schoolgirls, told Majalla English.
“Parents need to allocate more money for school buses and other costs, adding new expenses to their budget. Social distance is now being applied in school buses, doubling the cost of transportation fees compared to the fees before the pandemic. Online classes only need a good Internet connection.”, he explained.
Before the pandemic, public and private schools’ classrooms used to accommodate 30-40 students per classroom. With strict adherence to social distance, classes need to be restructured to follow the safety standards of the Ministry of Education. This could be a challenge for school managers. That’s why the MoE ordered schools to follow a mixed mode, where students go to school for 2 or 3 days and attend online classes at home for the remaining days. This way, students will get used to the shift gradually until they go back to classrooms fully.
According to the statistic of the Saudi MoE, 87% of students were committed to attendance on the first day. The remaining students were not fully vaccinated. The MoE said the absence days will be calculated two weeks after the beginning of the new academic year to allow parents to have their children vaccinated.
Teachers need some more time to cope with the new situation. They used to teach their students using online platforms for the past three semesters.
“I was away from classrooms and I didn’t interact with kids for a long time. The first day was hectic. I am not prepared psychologically for the change. It is actually a challenge. I believe going back to normal life motivates me big time.”, commented Hani bin Ali, a student supervisor at a Saudi school when asked about his feelings on the first day.
Some parents were told by their kids’ school managers that the experience will be evaluated by the MoE. According to the findings, the ministry will take a decision to continue the offline classes at schools or go back to distance learning for the first semester.