On March 8, the UAE’s Ministry of Education (MoE) made the announcement to have an early spring break, ordering students to stay at home for four weeks as part of precautionary measures against the Covid-19 virus.
A two-week distance learning programme was announced for students during the break.
On March 22, the first day of e-learning, over 1.2 million school and university students across the country joined their virtual classrooms, Cavendish Maxwell’s Education Market Report 2019-2020 revealed.
With the UAE tightening measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, it was announced on March 30 that the distance learning programme would be extended until the end of the current academic year.
Relevant local authorities undertook several steps to pan out the remote learning initiative. The education ministry launched its ‘Learning from Afar’ distance learning programme for students for the duration of the closure. In a bid to ascertain if teachers were ready for this transition, the ministry in partnership with the Hamdan bin Mohammed Smart University, extended a free e-training course to more than 42,000 teachers and academic staff, Cavendish Maxwell’s report revealed.
Meanwhile, Dubai’s education regulator, Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) launched a new distance learning platform #InThisTogetherDubai. Via the initiative, private entities extended assistance by offering apps, websites, services and other resources to parents, students and teachers free of charge. Meanwhile some private institutions implemented their own distance learning systems.
As schools and parents continue to come to terms with what is expected to be a protracted remote learning season, educational institutions will have to tackle several challenges such as transition to the e-learning module, re-prioritising and upskilling teachers and staff.
“School leaders are currently navigating uncharted territory, and they must address several fronts simultaneously,” says Maya El Hachem, managing director and partner, Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
“Their immediate priorities should be continuing to deliver quality education through equipping and training staff to use digital tools, innovating educational content, and actively communicating with parents. School leaders and educators should aim to team with parents and tailor their formats and schedules to satisfy the needs and constraints of students and their parents.
“Secondly, school leaders must ensure financial resilience which does not only entail cost-cutting measures but also identifying smart investments. Cost reduction measures mostly relate to facilities management and utilities, and pooling of resources. Costs saved should be partially re-invested in priority areas such as technology, staff training, and well-being programmes.”
The extension of the distance learning programme also prompted parents to seek relief related to school fees. Since then, several schools across the country have responded to the situation by announcing fee waivers.
Further relief was extended when KHDA confirmed that all bus fees for Term 3 of the current academic year (Term 1 for Indian and Pakistani schools) were to be refunded.
However, as the Covid-19 continues to negatively impact industries across world economies, the education sector too is expected to be hit by the fallout of the virus. Hence, a concerted effort from private and state stakeholders is required across all countries and states to ensure a smooth transition to digital learning and a smooth reversal of the same.
“The financial sustainability and resilience of private schools is critical in the region given the strong reliance on private education provision models,” explains El Hachem.
“As a result, governments are promptly intervening with short-term measures to avoid school closures and financial distress. In Dubai, for example, KHDA has guaranteed schools income from tuition fees by preventing students that drop out of the third trimester of this year to advance to the next academic level at the beginning of next year. This measure aims to protect the salaries and employment status of teachers and staff until the end of this academic year.”
Normalcy in due course
Schools in the UAE are expected to resume operations in September later this year. That said, a lot remains to be seen on how the situation evolves.
“For now, most schools are preparing to reopen their doors at the beginning of the next academic year in September 2020. In reality, there is still much uncertainty surrounding how quickly we will navigate out of this crisis and returning to normalcy may vary for each country or city,” El Hachem notes.
“Schools must prepare remedial and support plans such as summer programmes, early school openings, or extended school hours to rebuild momentum and ensure students’ reintegration and readiness,” she adds.