In Yemen, which also has no reported cases of the virus so far, Tariq Al-Marhabi, a lecturer at the Faculty of Applied Sciences at Hajjah University, supports the idea of shutting down universities if any infections are confirmed there.
“Certainly, schools and universities should be shut down to prevent the further spread of the virus, especially since Yemen’s healthcare system is very poor and we do not have the financial means to cope with it,” he said.
In contrast, some students worry that suspending classes is at best a temporary solution that could harm students’ futures.
“Lessons have been disrupted for the past period due to the protests, and now they have been suspended due to coronavirus,” said Nasser Al-Asaad, a student at the College of Commerce at Baghdad University. “We are about to lose an entire academic year.”
Distance Education: A Preliminary Solution
In the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of Education said schools will be closed for a month starting Sunday to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, although the ministry called it an “early four-week spring vacation.” The ministry is conducting a trial run of the Learning from Afar program for pupils in grades 5 to 12 this week.
Also, a number of Kuwaiti professors were quick to announce their intention to continue their classes online.
“Whether studying at the university is suspended or not, I will guarantee that my students will complete the course by using the recorded lectures,” tweeted Mohammed al-Kandari, a faculty member at the College of Engineering at Kuwait University.
Hamad al-Yaseen, an assistant professor of genomics at Kuwait University’s College of Health Sciences, believes that online learning can be useful.
“We try to avoid gatherings in closed rooms, to reduce the risk of infection,” he said. “Theoretical parts can be taught online so that we avoid a large number of students gathered in the lecture hall.” As for the practical parts of courses that must be taught in the laboratories, “We can postpone it until we return to study regularly,” he added.
Outside of the Arab World: International Meetings
In higher education internationally, a ripple of cancellations has begun to move through the spring-meeting calendar of higher education administrators and scientists. These meetings are a central source of networking and informational exchange, as well as often being the key source of revenue for the organizations that hold them.
The American Physical Society, the leading international organization where the world’s physicists gather, was scheduled to meet in Denver, Colorado, this week. The meeting was canceled at the last minute after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, upgraded the threat level that it believed the Covid-19 virus presented.
The Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, scheduled to meet March 22 to 26 in Vancouver, Canada, has postponed its meeting for a year, until 2021.
NAFSA: Association of International Educators is proceeding with plans to hold its annual conference in St. Louis in late May, but the organization said in a statement on its website this week that it was “paying close attention” to statements from the CDC and the WHO regarding the coronavirus and was following those agencies’ guidelines. “The well-being of 2020 NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo attendees is of the utmost importance,” it said.
The British Council has provided no updates so far regarding how the coronavirus might affect its “Going Global” conference, set for late June in London.
Tarek Abd El-Galil, reporting from Egypt, and Aisha Elgayar, reporting from Kuwait, contributed to this article.