As the number of coronavirus cases in the UAE hit 98, the government has been putting more effort into blocking its spread. The Gulf nation temporarily shut down schools and educational institutions earlier this month to limit the possible transmission of COVID-19. The closure of schools is to remain intact for four weeks as per the initial announcement. More recently, the ministry called for the closure of gyms, cinemas, and theme parks. But the closure of the latter areas doesn't necessarily have a drastic effect on society as education does.
Educators, parents, and students have been concerned over how quickly they could adapt to what's happening while ensuring no harm to the learning outcomes of the semester. The UAE has been quick to adapt to the crisis by turning to e-learning platforms and solutions in an effort to minimize the effects of the global pandemic on students.
More recently, the UAE's Ministry of Education and Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) has trained more than 42,000 teachers and academic staff to be well-versed in online tutoring. The training itself titled "How to be an online tutor in 24 hours" was conducted using a free e-training course as well and aims at teaching users how to use technology to manage classrooms virtually.
More than 22,000 certificates have been issued to educators since, according to Arabian Business.
The UAE's Minister of Education, Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, said officials have been putting much work into making e-learning accessible, beneficial, and productive for both students and educators alike.
"Today, we are better prepared for the future, by creating a comprehensive and integrated electronic learning and training environment, which will realize the country's efforts to shift towards smart education and employ technological resources and educational competencies to serve the academic community," the minister said.
The UAE is one of the only regional nations that has been building a digital infrastructure that can support e-classrooms for a while now. The coronavirus only made them move quicker in that direction and forced them to apply it on a nation-level, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as they will learn what worked and what didn't during this period.
An example of the efforts is "Madrasa," an Arabic e-learning platform launched under the umbrella of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) nearly two years ago. The platform offers more than 5,000 educational videos in math, science, and the Arabic language to students from kindergarten to Grade 12.
The platform supports the Distance Learning initiative, which the Ministry of Education launched this month, by providing interactive online classroom sessions — a feature many e-learning platforms lack.
Limitations in the Arab world
Other Arab countries have been trying to adapt to the technological world of schooling but they still have a long journey ahead of them. The region, as a whole, lags behind when it comes to online education, especially at the school level.
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."
The bulk of the educational process takes place in classrooms, making this period a very challenging one for many countries in the region. Students in Saudi Arabia, for example, took to Twitter earlier this month to complain about poor internet connection in their area that has impeded their access to lectures on the virtual learning platform Blackboard Learn. But it's not just internet problems; many of the education staff is not well-versed in technology and the virtual education tools and skills are not sufficient enough for productivity to remain at normal levels.
This is, unfortunately, the case in many countries in the Arab world ... with the exception of the UAE, it seems.