United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia’s students and teachers are back in school for the 2020-21 year, but warily.
COVID-19 very much has the upper hand in determining whether physical attendance or distant learning will eventually win for the rest of the school year.
In either case, technology is playing a huge part to ensure safe and enhanced learning conditions.
UAE and Saudi school re-openings
UAE authorities have enforced distance learning at several schools after some staff tested positive for coronavirus, state news agency WAM reported. Starting August 30th, 1 million students will be entering schools in the country.
Parents should keep their children home if they have any symptoms to curb the spread of coronavirus, the report added.
The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee for the COVID-19 Pandemic, has announced that distance learning will be implemented in any school if a case of COVID-19 is suspected and tests confirm it.
UAE School attendance capacities will be capped at 25% and after two weeks, the plan is to increase this to 50%, then 75%.
UAE’s parents can choose between distance learning or face-to-face learning. In Saudi, the first seven weeks of the fall term for schools will be online, when the government will examine the situation
Around 6 million school students and half-a-million teachers in Saudi began the first week of the new academic year on August 30th from distance amid registration and online attendance confusion.
Many private schools had their own subscriptions to other educational platforms, and have already begun implementing their virtual education experience plan.
Earlier in April, Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al Al-Sheikh said distance learning could eventually be a strategic choice for Saudi and not just an alternative following the coronavirus disease crisis.
Technology, a key theme
1. Projectors and cameras
Abdulnassir Ali, Sales Manager, Visual Imaging Solutions at Epson Middle East said in a recent company release that education leaders have turned their thinking to how they can use projectors and cameras to safely bring people back together and maintain social distancing.
Given that around 58% of students aged 12-22 claim they can’t read all content on a 70-inch flat-panel (commonly used in classrooms) and written at least one item incorrectly, further in-class distancing poses a serious concern.
Projectors scale screen sizes up to make them accessible to everyone in the room. Epson provides bright, scalable screen sizes up to 350 inches, and uses displays with anti-bacterial whiteboard surfaces, to eradicate any breeding ground for bacteria and viruses.
With a large screen size of up to 120 inches, the Epson EB-1400 series combines the benefits of interactive projection, whiteboards, and flip charts in one multi-purpose, integrated device allowing students to view from anywhere in the classroom, make on-screen contributions, and take part from their own smart devices in class or at home.
Visualizers, or document cameras, share a projected live view of 3D objects. Large groups of people, both in and outside of the physical room, can share a detailed, close-up view of an item without crowding around and without having to pass the object between them.
2. AI in Saudi schools
Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to transform education in Saudi.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the closure of schools has made digital learning a high priority for the country.
Numou Center for Education, in Dhahran, has teamed up with Century Tech, a London-based education company, to create a new AI-powered learning platform designed specifically for the needs of Saudi students.
A number of Saudi education institutions already use the platform in English but Numou is creating customized AI-powered instructional materials for studying the Arabic language, as well as Arabic mathematics and science content.
The system automates the marking of students’ work and assists with planning and other administration, saving teachers hours every week.
3. Online education, the new norm
Ozhan Toktas, Managing Director for Pearson Middle East told AMEinfo that more than 3 in 4 people believe that education will fundamentally change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our Global Learner Survey 2020 showed that 88% of the learners worldwide now say that online learning will be a permanent part of Education at all levels in the future,” Toktas said.
“But globally, 67% of learners see education as lagging behind in the technology game, with education institutions being less effective at using technology than other industries.”