Experts Offer Ideas on How Arab Education Can Recover from Covid-19 Setbacks
In the wake of a United Nations education summit that said the Covid-19 school closings had caused “the largest disruption in history” to student learning, Arab education leaders are calling on their countries to make reforming educational systems a priority.
Delegates of 130 nations, including a dozen Arab countries, attended the United Nations’ Transforming Education Summit, held September 16, 17 and 19 in New York, and pledged to speed up their work to help schools recover from the education crisis.
A statement issued at the summit’s end noted that some 147 million students had missed over half of their in-person instruction since 2020. In 2021, it said, 244 million children and young people were out of school.
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Moreover, half of all countries have cut education budgets, further deepening the crisis, putting 840 million young people at risk of leaving school early with no qualifications for the workplace of the future, the statement said.
“Despite the pandemic’s negative impact, it prompted Egypt’s Ministries of Higher Education and Education to integrate technology as an educational medium in teaching, activities, exams, and designing e-learning platforms.”Reda Massad, former head of public education at Egypt’s Ministry of Education.
Education experts in several Arab countries spoke to Al-Fanar Media about the setbacks the pandemic has dealt to student learning and what governments need to do to help educational institutions recover.
Attracting Students Back
In a statement, Reda Massad, an Egyptian education expert, said that “despite the pandemic’s negative impact,” it had hastened acceptance of online learning. “It prompted Egypt’s Ministries of Higher Education and Education to integrate technology as an educational medium in teaching, activities, exams, designing e-learning platforms, and training students and faculty members to use them,” he said.
[Coronavirus Outbreak Forces Arab Countries to Consider Long-Ignored Online Education]
Massad, the former head of public education at Egypt’s Ministry of Education, called on educational institutions to work to end an entrenched system of private tutoring in Egypt and bring students and teachers back to classrooms. Schools should base a greater percentage of students’ grades on attendance, and organise educational, sports and theatrical activities to attract students back, he said.
He also called for adding incentives for teachers who refrain from private tutoring and commit to working at schools only.
An Impetus for Reform in Lebanon
Nisreen Shaheen, head of a contracting committee for teachers in Lebanon’s public schools, said the pandemic had focused attention on the need for education reforms in Lebanon and for the government to allocate sufficient financial resources for that.
“The pandemic was a starting point for integrating online education into educational systems, to make it an integral part of them, rather than a mere alternative solution in times of crisis.”Nisreen Shaheen, head of a contracting committee for teachers in Lebanon’s public schools.
“When the pandemic struck, educational systems were not ready to implement distance learning,” she said. “Too many students’ homes lacked electric power, the Internet, or computers to study. In addition, there was a shortage of teachers with proper training on distance teaching.”
These conditions severely affected the education process, Shaheen said.
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“The pandemic was a starting point for integrating online education into educational systems, to make it an integral part of them rather than a mere alternative solution in times of crisis,” she said. It also highlighted the importance of “qualifying teachers and students for online education and developing their skills to use technology.”
Shaheen also called for increasing mental health support programmes for students. “The pandemic has already caused the students to suffer psychological disorders,” she said. “It imposed on them challenges they were not prepared for, in terms of lack of movement, social isolation, and online education.”
A Call for an Arab Strategy
Mohammed Abu-Ghazaleh, a Jordanian education expert, called for an Arab strategy to develop education systems’ capabilities for distance education as a basic form of education, and to establish an Arab study centre to develop plans for improving education systems.
“I propose the establishment of an Arab centre for the evaluation and ranking of education systems similar to international centres.”Mohammed Abu-Ghazaleh, Jordanian education expert.
“I propose the establishment of an Arab centre for the evaluation and ranking of education systems similar to international centres,” he said.
Abu-Ghazaleh also said that curricula must be redesigned with content appropriate to digital learning, and that teachers needed training and support to enable them to use modern tools to improve the quality of education.
“They need to help students access multiple sources to support their learning and openness to global cultures and keep abreast of knowledge developments,” he said. In addition, he said, education systems should “provide parents with the opportunity to follow their children, and provide continuing education opportunities for all, regardless of their financial capabilities.”
He also called for establishing partnerships between Arab health and education institutions to improve physical and mental health support for Arab students.
Abu-Ghazaleh also called for diversifying funding sources for education and increasing spending on it.
“It is also important to establish an Arab fund to provide equitable education for all,” he said. “Apart from the pandemic, Arab educational systems are in dire need of a transformation to address classroom overcrowding and the relative shortage of teachers in some disciplines.”
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