(This article is one of two in a package. The other is “Next Steps for New Online Courses: Measure Learning, Prevent Cheating.”)
Across the Arab region, academic leaders are struggling with how to assess students for a spring semester transformed hurriedly into distance education, as well as when and how to reopen shuttered campuses.
The transition to online education has gone fairly smoothly in the oil-rich Gulf countries, with their well-developed high-speed Internet networks and high rates of laptop ownership. In less affluent countries, like Egypt and Morocco, authorities have scrambled to put university lectures on television since many students cannot access online courses.
Examinations are a thorny problem. Many countries have already canceled final exams at universities and extended the suspension of educational activities nationwide. For example, in Egypt, the Supreme Council of Universities said it will replace in-person exams with either a research paper or online exams.
“For now, there is no other choice,” said Abdul-Azim El-Gammal, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Suez Canal University. “This is ideal for the current situation.”
Students have a different view of end-of-the-year assessments. In Algeria, university students will have to take online exams by the end of June. “Most of us students have not been able to continue our study online due to weak Internet connections and lack of personal laptops and smartphones,” said Kachtal Ramzi, a student at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumediene. “So, how can we take the exams? This is not fair and logical.”
Globally, 58 out of 84 countries surveyed in a rapid global analysis conducted by UNESCO had postponed or rescheduled exams and 23 introduced alternative methods such as online or home-based testing.
Countries in Conflict
In war-torn Libya and Yemen, authorities have had to accept that their countries will simply lose several months of university education. Libyan university departments struggled to give students online access to courses. But after two weeks, the country’s two rival governments both decided to end the attempts and instead declared April and May a vacation. Universities are now expecting to reopen in June and continue through the end of August, normally the time of the annual break.