As the world faces the possibility of a continued spread of the new Coronavirus (COVID19), we are witnessing an immediate impact on the world economy, with some sectors such as manufacturing, trade, aviation, travel and tourism having been heavily affected over the past weeks. There is also the prospect of a more long-term impact: measures to contain the spread of the virus have disrupted the education sector in some parts of the world. As of 6th March 2020, there are 26 countries in three different continents who have announced or implemented partial school closures (UNESCO). 15 countries have shut schools nationwide, leaving some 300 million students out of school.
While governments around the world are mobilizing their public health response to stop the virus from spreading, we at Dubai Cares are keenly following what governments around the world are able to do in order to put in place contingency plans to stop education from being disrupted.
The UAE Government has been at the forefront by taking preventive and precautionary measures at the national level to ensure the safety of students by closing down public and private schools, universities and academic institutions for 4 weeks. While doing so, the UAE government is also working closely with school leaders and teachers to immediately roll-out online or distance learning, thereby bolstering the rise of e-learning in mainstream education. In the current situation, I am eager to see how e-learning will be providing access to continued quality learning, providing flexibility, convenience as well as the required learning content for students and teachers alike. I am also keen to see how online learning will be providing students with access to various e-learning platforms and applications and allowing them to share information through videos and virtual lessons.
However, overcoming this crisis is not the sole responsibility of a country or an entity. We have to mobilize all resources available to battle against the novel coronavirus. In the race against this virus, all community members and actors, including education stakeholders should be united as one, supporting both the public health challenge, where schools and universities are important providers of the correct public health messages to follow, but also supporting children’s regular education locally and globally. It is the right moment to be united not only to combat the virus, but also to continue providing education to our children.
Parents play an important role in their children’s learning journey; this is why their engagement in their children’s education remains as important today as it has been traditionally. In any crisis, there are always actors within the community who commit to taking a leading role in tackling the challenges faced by the community. In the current Coronavirus outbreak, the time has come for parents to ensure that their children’s learning is not interrupted by supporting them to adapt to distance learning. Perhaps this is a moment for parents to re-engage with their children, by playing board games, get children to help with chores, share storytelling from their own childhood and introduce new literature to keep their children exploring and learning. This is something I will personally be engaged with alongside my daughters over the course of the coming weeks.
In humanitarian settings globally, different forms of online and digital learning options are being increasingly explored as a potential solution to solve the learning crisis, where children are on the move, schools are shut or destroyed. As a UAE-based global philanthropic organization working towards providing quality education to children and youth in developing countries, we are committed to finding alternative methods for children and youth affected by emergencies and protracted crises. We believe no one should be left behind.
As part of our efforts to address education needs in emergencies, we have recently rolled out two innovative, technology-based educational programs in Jordan, aimed at supporting Syrian Refugee children, as well as children from host communities. The first program introduced an app that is specially designed to improve pre-literacy and pre-numeracy among young children, while the second one utilizes an online learning platform designed to provide academic coaching and learning to out-of-school children at secondary level.
In addition, we have launched a live audio and video in-service teacher training program in Ghana where a number of schools were provided with solar powered video-link equipment, allowing trainers to conduct interactive lessons.
In the event of a prolonged school closure or other forms of disruption of schooling, continuity of learning is both a right and a responsibility. E-learning is evolving into a critical component of education in emergencies, as it promotes the continuation of teaching and learning, despite circumstances that interrupt normal school attendance. As the UAE rolls out e-learning throughout all its schools, the country has the potential to become a pioneering example of a nation providing timely and innovative solutions to protect the right to education when facing challenging times. I feel confident that as the UAE’s e-learning experience evolves, it can give hope and motivation to other nations who are seeking viable solutions.
As the international community is striving to find immediate solutions to this global crisis, we must continue to work together so that all children and youth around the world are safe, concerns for their social and emotional wellbeing are supported, and that, ultimately, children have access to quality learning. However, we also need to remember that education is a social process, with teachers and students meeting in real life and building knowledge together. E-learning can support in this, but not replace it forever. We hope that all children will soon be safely back in their classrooms, and learning continues uninterrupted.