Female students in the Gulf states are struggling with the demands of online learning and the gendered impacts of Covid-19.
Few learners were prepared for the shift to emergency remote learning or higher education moving into the home and once private domestic sphere.
I come to this issue as a female academic researching educational technology and teaching at a women’s only university in Dubai. In particular, I am aware that many Gulf-Arab women feel uncomfortable breaching cultural taboos and showing their faces online. Across the Arab region, female students in particular have been concerned about webcam monitoring during exams. While some educators feel this raises concerns surrounding academic integrity and accountability, for certain female students the issues are more complex and culturally rooted.
The emergency shift to online courses at universities in the Gulf has been reported as relatively painless, due to high-speed internet access and high rates of mobile phone and laptop ownership. But cultural tensions in the region surround women’s learning and are impacting on the rollout of online education. A number of Gulf-Arab women students are reticent about studying for degrees online, while juggling domestic responsibilities, to get ready for a now increasingly uncertain future. This is because, when it comes to the emergency remote learning necessitated by the coronavirus crisis, the digital divide is not only about tech infrastructure and mobile devices but also a matter of systemic gender inequalities.
In the rush to deliver online courses, teachers should be more sensitive to gender issues and develop greater awareness of the issues affecting women learners. This article offers seven pointers for what online education providers can do to be more gender aware.
- Consider the offline context of online learning.
The home is a highly gendered space and women tend to bear the brunt of domestic labor. A number of students are mothers. Many women, mothers included, are apt to live with siblings and extended families. The needs of children, teenagers and relatives rarely align with the quiet sanctuary necessary for online learning or live webcam classes. Requirements for students’ visual self-presentations during online classes add to the pervasive Covid-19-related anxiety. To support overburdened students, teachers should make learning content accessible beyond the fixed class time.
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