JEDDAH: Despite the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, students in Saudi Arabia’s public and private schools have been virtually receiving their education through online learning platforms made available by the Ministry of Education.
Dr. Mohammad Al-Arfaj, CEO of Ma’arif for Education and Training — one of the largest private school owners and operators in Saudi Arabia — said that the Education Ministry had carefully studied the current situation.
“At Ma’arif, we were proactive (in) early planning and preparation for e-learning, which paved (the) way to offer an advanced model of education delivery,” he told Arab News.
“This is based on two main principles to ensure the comprehensiveness and quality of e-learning — the adherence to a schedule that is very similar to the usual schedule adopted during normal face-to-face study, and to ensure that our students receive live classes that exceed 75 percent of the weekly schedule.”
He added that they had provided over 71,000 live lectures to students via remote learning since the start of this academic year on Aug. 29, and succeeded in establishing new parameters in education delivery in the Kingdom. The Ma’arif CEO pointed out that e-learning had been embraced as a reliable model by governments and educational authorities.
“There was apprehension in the past but with the pandemic, we all addressed the challenge by leveraging the opportunity that e-learning presented. We are witnessing a remarkable transformation in the educational ecosystem,” he said.
Commenting on whether or not the available digital solutions would be enough for a good learning experience, Al-Arfaj said that building on their online learning experience, they had continued to strive for excellence in education provision.
There were apprehension in the past but with the pandemic, we all addressed the challenge by leveraging the opportunity that e-learning presented.
Dr. Mohammad Al-Arfaj CEO, Ma’arif for Education and Training
“We have invested significantly in our online platform MLG (Ma’arif Learning Gateway) which has proven a trusted platform by our teachers and students. Several remote educational services and applications have been added and the library has been uploaded with all the resources needed for asynchronous access. Our platform is designed to continue to deliver the curriculum as seamlessly as possible,” he added.
He asserted that while nothing could beat the school experience “we must not be discouraged by the situation and must do all we can to ensure quality learning for our students.”
Al-Arfaj blamed some schools for not arranging or preparing for such a difficult situation beforehand.
“There should always be a backup where you leverage your resources based on the situation, and this is what some schools did not take into consideration. The challenges are everywhere and frequent, but we must be prepared to deal with them without impacting the quality of education,” he said.
The CEO said Ma’arif was building on its successful online and interactive learning experience from last year, as they “carefully designed a plan that blends online and offline lessons, taking into consideration the screen-time students are exposed to during online learning.”
He added that their e-learning schedule included synchronous and asynchronous learning, and that most of their lessons were delivered in a synchronous manner where teachers from inside the classrooms, and students at home, interacted in real-time.
“We organized a detailed online orientation session, including routines for online learning and schedules. We have also shared our e-learning policies and
guidelines with our parents and students before the start of the academic year.
“Once we go back to the schools’ premises, we intend to continuously employ the e-learning process to enhance and enrich our academic programs,” he added.
“We are first and foremost education providers, committed to ensuring the holistic development of our children. The values that our teachers share — providing the best quality education to students — are unwavering and that is our key strength,” he said.
Ma’arif is also assisting families with fee deferrals during the pandemic by offering waivers to those in direst need.