(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).
We often don’t pay attention to the fact that life changes and fail to notice that nothing is constant except for ourselves. Even we ourselves are changing, whether we notice it or not. We venture out eager for knowledge, and become experts without knowing it, for attempting tasks alone is sufficient to form an opinion, especially these days.
Syria’s war started without the permission of those living in Syria. Our first fear was change: We waited for the return of the known while taking steps towards the unknown, until we lost hope once and for all. We lost our education, and our knowledge declined compared to peers in neighboring countries.
Then many years later came the novel coronavirus crisis, which has again obstructed our education. The only difference, however, is that the virus struck the entire world and paralyzed many other sectors in addition to education. Entire cities were locked down and production of many goods was no longer as we knew it. Industry, trade, tourism and cargo transport all stopped, and we witnessed unparalleled change at all levels. But the rapid move to confront it was an opportunity to make major transformations, especially the adoption of online education as an alternative solution to ensure the continued education of millions of students in the Arab region and around the world.
Of course, accepting change is not easy and sometimes not possible, and cannot be achieved quickly.
Although distance learning provided an educational opportunity for all students, if they had Internet access and the right equipment, the voices of those who rejected it and underestimated its efficiency were loud. Personally, I can say that if distance education had been available to me ten years ago, I wouldn’t have had to leave my country after waiting for five years in search of an opportunity to complete my studies, and another five years to start my career. Now these opportunities have become available to everyone, in an easy and simple way, all you have to do is to determine what you are looking for, using Google or several other specialized platforms, to find many options provided by the world’s best and finest universities. (See a related resource, Al-Fanar Media’s Guide to Online Learning Platforms.)
Some of the many benefits of distance education are that you do not have to take a long journey to get admitted, bear the costs of travel and accommodation, get to know an entirely new community, acclimatize to a new culture, commit to a specific place, and other challenges that I faced when I left Aleppo to finish my education.
Of course, distance education still needs to be improved. I do not think that it is fair to compare it with traditional education, as they are completely different even if the goal is the same. Distance education is not better than traditional education and vice versa. Each has its own terms, conditions, results and merits.
“Yes, I did have the opportunity to be taught in a traditional university format. However, to be honest, when I graduated from the Lebanese International University, in Beirut, with high grades and a degree in communication arts, that was not enough.”
Today, what we need first is to embrace the change and start adapting to it. This requires some additional assistance such as forming specific groups of teachers and instructors to follow students, respond to their inquiries, and help them overcome the crises some of them face in adapting to this change. Such groups would also help to maintain the human communication that we need today.
Distance education also opens the doors to career development differently. I work as a volunteer in a communication department and on social media platforms, and so have a passion for developing relationships and pursuing excellence to achieve my goal as an official spokeswoman of an organization supporting and enabling the young people in society. As a result of that work, I have worked online with many platforms, which has created an opportunity for me, especially because it is difficult, if not impossible, for a Syrian citizen to find a job in neighboring countries.
Besides, there is a very intense competition in the labor market with those who have grown up in a safe, stable environment that helped them develop faster than Syrians. Therefore, I only had to compete with myself to develop my skills in line with the requirements of the job market. E-learning was more flexible in terms of scheduling my study time and determining my specialization. I enrolled in many courses, including an introduction to humanitarian work, entrepreneurship, communication arts, electronic correspondence and English, which I personally consider key to any business.
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The matter does not stop here. It is easy to notice that many job description’s first sentences describe “multi-tasking” as a requirement, meaning that one certificate is no longer sufficient. You have to be familiar with multiple skills and having them increases your opportunity to accept and obtain a job more than other applicants.
It has become easy for many people to obtain a university degree, but that doesn’t mean everyone has enough knowledge, and knowledge comes from reading. To prove that you are knowledgeable of the appropriate subjects, you need evidence, and this is what distance education provides us with.
Yes, I did have the opportunity to be taught in a traditional university format. However, to be honest, when I graduated from the Lebanese International University, in Beirut, with high grades and a degree in communication arts, that was not enough. Education alone, based on teachers’ words, is not enough. You have to continue learning online, which has become available and easy to use for us. It can be the basis for opening many closed doors.
Today, the opportunity is greater, and readily available to all who wish, and much more intensive than we have seen before. So, I invite you to seize the opportunity and keep pace with this new global trend. Waiting for things to return back to normal will hinder everyone’s progress. We have to accept the fact that nothing will return as it was before 2020. That is, the post-COVID-19 world will not be the same as before, and we have to choose to be part of this important transformation, or to remain lost in the sea of darkness, not recognizing the world and not being recognized by it.
Nawar Rahmouni is a volunteer in the communication department, member of the board of directors and vice president of the SPARK Alumni Network. She is also a volunteer in the communication department at Techfugees in Lebanon and Mentor Arabia. She founded “Gharna” for natural Aleppo’s traditional products and “Rawnaq” for environmentally-friendly handmade products. She also made two short documentary films: “Voices under Pressure” and “Grass on a Stone”.