CAIRO—The first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year is approaching its end in most of the Arab region’s universities amid confusion over how to move forward as new coronavirus infections surge. After many universities started the school year with traditional on-campus classes while adhering to safety measures, university administrations have now suspended such classes and returned to distance education as their countries experience a second wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Late last year, Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Egypt’s minister of higher education and scientific research, announced the closure of all universities, the completion of the academic year with distance education, and the postponement of fall semester exams until after the end of the mid-year vacation. However, in a televised interview, he hinted that it may be possible to resume the spring semester normally.
“From a scientific point of view,” he said, “we expect things will go back to normal during the second half of February with the presence of vaccines, or the end of the second wave of the coronavirus.”
Still, nothing has been announced so far regarding the method for applying for the first semester exams.
The situation is similar in Tunisia, where the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research announced the suspension of all classes, exams and thesis discussions at universities and the closure of libraries through the 24th of January as a means to limit the spread of the virus.
In Lebanon, where a soaring infection rate coincides with an economic crisis that has doubled poverty rates, authorities imposed an almost complete lockdown, including all educational institutions, from the 14th of this month until the first of February. Recently, intensive care units in a number of Lebanese hospitals announced reaching their maximum capacity.
“Life is almost stalled here,” said Ghina Abdel-Mawla, a student at the Lebanese University’s Faculty of Law. “I don’t think classes can be resumed soon, and I don’t wish so. Covid-19 infections are increasing, hospitals are reluctant to admit patients, and it is difficult to secure medicines. How can we study in such circumstances?”
Problems of Distance Education Persist
The continuation of the school year seems more stable in other countries, like Bahrain and Jordan, as they adopted online education from the beginning. University campuses and school buildings have remained closed after adopting distance education last year.