By: Omar Abdul-Hafiz
The global coronavirus outbreak and the shift towards social distancing have posed very serious challenges on several levels. These challenges have sent the education sector across the globe racing to find solutions to cope with the urgent need for the distance learning alternative. In the UAE, for instance, plans to switch to distance learning were carried out from as early as the first week of March. It began with a swift closure of schools and universities which was issued across the country, then studies continued remotely. Following that, the possibility of extending the distance learning period hung in the air until it was confirmed on the 30th of March that it will continue until June.
One especially interesting step towards distance learning was taken in Dubai with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) launching a new distance learning platform.
Similarly, in Qatar, plans to switch to distance learning were underway from early March, when the government announced the closure of schools and universities amid fears over the coronavirus outbreak. Following that, steps were taken to facilitate distance learning alternatives, starting with creating a YouTube channel titled ‘Qatar’s distance learning’ for the first three primary grades, and instruct students and families on how to use Microsoft® TEAMS and the LMS software for students from grades 4 to 12.
Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, efforts were spent on ensuring a smooth transfer towards distance learning. According to Arab News, “Six million Saudi students in general education and about 1.6 million university students benefited from distance learning through various technical platforms and programs.” Interestingly enough, the Saudi minister of education, Dr Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh, announced that the shift towards distance learning had taken place only ten hours after the suspension of regular education.
Similar procedures were also taken in Bahrain and Oman, where schools and universities were suspended, and classes were to broadcast on the state TV channel.
What does this mean for the education sector in the GCC and the world?
In spite of how difficult these challenges might seem, they should not prevent us from seeing the flood of emerging opportunities and needs for new technologies and methods that help us cope and come out even more successful than before. One of the biggest lessons these challenges have taught us was the urgent need for investing more in the advancement and adoption of distance learning technology.
Even after the current coronavirus ordeal comes to an end, the education sector around the globe can benefit greatly from facilitating e-learning technology. It does not have to completely replace on-campus studies, of course. But a well-balanced combination of on-campus and online learning can help significantly boost the overall flexibility and effectiveness of the academic process in the long run.