DUBAI: Distance learning, where the student and teacher are not physically present in a traditional classroom environment, has become the norm in most parts of the world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020.
The information is relayed through discussion forums, video conferences and online reviews. Educational activities have adopted a variety of formats and methods, most of which use computer technology on the Internet.
Now, with the emergence of worrying new variants such as the omicron strain and infections on the rise again in many parts of the world, it increasingly seems that distance learning, instead of being a pis- go, is here to stay.
Disrupting the school year for more than 1.7 billion students worldwide, the pandemic has accelerated an existing trend of digitization, changing the way people study, work and interact.
What started as a temporary solution to allow schools and universities to complete the school year while complying with strict social distancing regulations has become a staple of the education system.
Online education is now closely linked to schooling models, reversing the past reliance on traditional classroom instruction. As a result, a new hybrid model of education that combines both online and in-person education has emerged.
Many educators in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries say the combination is a more “hands-on” and “cost-effective” approach to learning in the 21st century. Jeffrey Smith, director of school partnerships at iCademy Middle East, believes blended learning, or blended learning, is the way to go.
âToday’s students and families demand more flexibility than a traditional education model can support,â Smith told Arab News, highlighting the changing demands of the modern workplace like the one of the main factors behind this change.
âThey need quick and affordable access to information and courses to learn skills. “
Developments in the educational technology sector, known as EdTech, also reflect the new trend. The demand for e-learning solutions has exploded during the pandemic. The EdTech sector, which was valued at $ 227 billion in 2020, is expected to reach $ 404 billion by 2025.
The demand for online and hybrid courses at GCC universities had already increased long before the pandemic. âOnline learning produces better retention rates, which means higher graduation rates and more income for universities,â Smith said.
In Saudi Arabia, the GCC’s largest education market, some 77% of education has been delivered remotely during the pandemic, according to a study by cloud computing company Citrix Systems released in June.
The study, which interviewed a sample of senior executives, IT executives, teachers and university administrators in Saudi Arabia, found that a majority (81%) believe the blended learning model will improve performance. learning experience over the next academic year, with half agreeing the new method will dramatically improve learning.
Leading academic institutions in the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait are also committed to digitizing their education sectors.
Unsurprisingly, the EdTech and smart classroom market in the Middle East and Africa is expected to reach $ 7.1 billion by 2027, according to a study by The Insight Partners.
Europe currently has the largest EdTech community, with more than half of the continent’s 20 largest EdTech companies based in the UK, one of the largest providers of smart education solutions in the Gulf region.
One example is Firefly, a portal used by more than one million students, teachers and parents, available in more than 600 schools in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
The growing popularity of online learning is evident at Bahrain University of Applied Sciences, where students have had the choice of either returning to campus after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted or continuing their studies remotely. for the 2021 academic year.
âWe had 25% of our students who decided to study on campus and 75% who decided to study at home,â Ghassan Aouad, president of ASU, told Arab News.
While the negative âpsychologicalâ impact of the pandemic on students is a major concern, says Aouad, online learning has major benefits.
âWe provided the highest quality learning outcomes to our students and in fact it might have been beneficial to have all the lectures recorded for them,â he said.
The move online has also improved computer skills, improved time management and increased independent learning among students, he said.
Of course, the hybrid model is not without its drawbacks, given that almost half of the world’s population does not have easy access to the Internet. For schools that don’t have the right online infrastructure, issues with technology, accessibility, and communication between teachers, students, and parents are quite common.
Many schools and universities were unprepared for the transition when the pandemic hit, but were forced to embrace the distance learning model as a way to stay afloat.
In fact, according to a recent UNICEF report, at least 460 million students worldwide cannot access distance learning programs because they lack the necessary devices or infrastructure.
In the interest of inclusiveness, schools and universities are working hard to bring students back to classroom learning. In the UAE, recently announced security protocols were designed to facilitate a 100% return to in-person learning from January 2022.
Likewise, the Saudi government has spent over SR1 billion to upgrade facilities in accordance with security protocols to ensure the smooth return of students and staff to schools and universities.
The Saudi Food and Drug Authority has also approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, which will allow students in that age group to return to class.
While e-learning models have provided a practical solution to meeting the needs of the pandemic, few believe that traditional classroom learning has had its day.
âI can’t imagine the hybrid model being 50-50,â Aouad said. âOn campus, traditional learning will be dominant with an element of online learning. This will become the norm, especially for general study types of courses. For practical classes, however, students will need to be on campus.
Additionally, he argues, the interpersonal, analytical and critical thinking skills that students need to be successful in many professions cannot be taught through a webcam.
Parents are understandably divided over the benefits of in-person and distance learning. A recent UAE government poll involving 28,171 participants found that 59% of parents would prefer their children to learn remotely, compared to 41% who favored face-to-face lessons.
George Tharakan, whose 10-year-old attends Apple International Community School in Dubai, believes home-based learning has improved family interactions, eliminated bullying in school and allowed parents to help with homework And the activities.
On the other hand, he admits that his child may miss out on formative interactions with other students, neglect his writing skills in favor of typing and verbal communication, and experience disruption caused by technical issues. .
Aaliyah Khan, a mother of two, was impressed with the quick and smooth transition to e-learning during the pandemic, but remains a supporter of traditional classroom learning.
âOnline learning should only be out of necessity, not out of choice. I’m not a big fan of a hybrid model either, as it includes screen time exposure, which I can’t stand, âKhan told Arab News.
âWith face-to-face learning, students socialize and make healthy connections. This is why we humans are called social animals. In addition to social skills, children can concentrate better and participate more actively in learning in the classroom.