The shift to online learning that the Covid-19 shutdowns forced on universities and schools has created particular set of challenges for technical and vocational schools in the Middle East and North Africa region, where lack of access to digital devices, poor Internet connections and a widening digital divide are causing some students to fall behind.
Many technical and vocational courses rely on practical demonstrations that are difficult to translate to a digital environment, and the programs typically attract students from low-income backgrounds who are less likely to have access to digital devices.
With Covid-19 caseloads climbing and many students unable to attend class, there is concern that these young people, many of whom already live in challenging environments, will suffer a lasting impact on their education.
“There is a huge need to build digital skills amongst the most vulnerable,” says Sonia Ben Jaafar, chief executive of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, which provides scholarships and skills training to underserved students in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Jordan.
“What the Covid crisis exposed was an increase in the gender digital divide (which) adversely affects gender gaps in education, violence and higher risk of female drop-outs,” she says. “The result is girls are left behind and cultural norms dictate that online learning remains in the male domain.” (See a related article, “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality.”)