(This article is one of two in a package. The other is “Coronavirus Outbreak Forces Arab Countries to Consider Long-Ignored Online Education.”)
HEBRON—West Bank universities are making a hurried transition to distance learning after the Palestinian Authority temporarily closed all educational institutions to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus. Students are not thrilled about the sudden change.
President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days in the West Bank on March 5 after 16 cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in Bethlehem. As of Thursday, March 12, there were 30 confirmed cases in the Palestinian territories, according to the World Health Organization.
As a result, the Palestinian Authority shut all 24 universities, colleges, and junior colleges until early April.
To serve the 181,786 students affected by the shutdown, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is turning to distance learning, with lessons to be broadcast via Youtube, radio, and television for students from the first through 12th grade, officials said.
For higher education, the ministry has asked all universities to conduct classes online beginning March 14. The universities plan to use different strategies such as blended learning, e-classes, and virtual classrooms. Various applications such as Zoom and Google Hangouts will be deployed.
In the past, Palestinian universities have not been able to offer any accredited online courses. But universities generally did have students’ e-mail addresses and gave students ways to, for example, upload assignments in what were called “e-classes.”
A Hasty Switch to Online Leaning
Now, universities are mobilizing.
Mustafa Abu Safa, vice president for academic affairs at Polytechnic University in Hebron, which has about 6,000 students, said that the university has created an emergency plan to implement distance learning, starting with a format that will gather students into a virtual classroom using an online tool twice or three times a week, then, give students a week off to work on homework assignments and projects.
“Technology, mainly the Internet, is available everywhere in Palestine,” he said. “The applications we are using are free and easy to use. Hence, distance learning is easy to implement.”