Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash Source: Unsplash

Governments across the Arab world have temporarily shut down schools and educational institutions in a bid to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. 

Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE have all approved temporary school suspensions while other countries continue to debate the matter. 

Educators and parents are concerned over the disease just as much as they're worried about students being unable to complete their curriculums.  

Some schools are turning to e-learning platforms in a bid to bridge the gap for pupils; others are unable to make the shift due to the fact that the region continues to lag behind when it comes to online education systems. 

E-learning is practically non-existent in the region

Only a handful of educational institutions in the region offer e-learning options and even then, the bulk of the education process happens in classrooms. 

The UAE is one of the only regional nations that has already been moving towards building a digital infrastructure that can facilitate e-classrooms. The country continuously launches initiatives aimed at bolstering this kind of learning process. These include "Madrasa," an e-learning platform offered in Arabic. 

Other Gulf nations are trying to join in on the efforts but still have a long way to go. 

The level of e-education available to students varies depending on the country where they're based. This is because "online education depends strongly on digital infrastructure, PC and Internet penetration, and connection costs, all of which vary hugely from one Arab country to another." 

So what are students doing to fill in the gap?

Abdullah Salem, a high school student in Saudi Arabia, told us that the private school where he receives his education has decided to send most course materials via email and allow students to communicate with their educators online if they need help. 

"My school doesn't implement a full-fledged e-learning program but they're using the online platforms available in Saudi Arabia to try and stop us from missing out on big chunks of the material," he said. 

Salem explained that though reading materials and documents have been provided to students, they will not be able to follow through with exams if the shut down is extended further. 

"Most schools here [in Saudi Arabia] don't have the needed technology to conduct exams online so I guess we're stuck this year if school is still closed by the time our final exams are due," he added. 

Things are different for Samar, a high schooler in Lebanon, who says her school hasn't offered any online support for students. 

"We don't have an online platform where we can download materials or receive them from teachers and the internet in Lebanon doesn't help for anyone to hold a class online," she said. 

"The only thing we can do is email instructors if we really need advice on what to do if the closures go on longer than expected but I don't think any student will do that," she added. 

Samar told us that some teachers do reach out to students to recommend reading material but can't do much more in a country where the internet connection is super expensive and unreliable, to say the least. 

Regional teachers are changing their plans

Image used for illustrative purposes only.

Speaking to StepFeed, Sarah, a teacher based in the UAE, said no school expected such a situation would unfold and so most educational institutions are now scrambling to make decisions on what to do. 

"You can't switch to e-learning all at once, this requires lots of planning and technical support that most schools can't offer at the time being. That said, the UAE is one of the best places for us to be right now because we're quickly working on finding alternatives to keep our lesson plans going if closures continue in the next few weeks," she explained. 

Sarah added that the institution where she works is facilitating some online learning features for students enrolled in high school but things are more complicated for younger pupils. 

"E-learning will take a long time to be implemented for all students but more so for primary school pupils because they need training for it as not all parents can assist their children with e-classes and such," she said.