As we know by now, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). A pandemic is a disease that spreads in multiple countries at the same time. To contain a pandemic, governments must take aggressive and immediate actions. In Saudi Arabia, the suspension of schools and universities in early March with the emergence of the country’s first positive cases was one such brave action. Although this caused some disruption, it was nonetheless a necessary move to protect the population. I only wish other countries had taken similar actions at a much earlier stage before contamination spread.
Having said that, let us look at some of the lessons we can learn from this pandemic. One thing that this virus has shown us is that we need to change how we learn. We are in the fourth industrial revolution and are capable of transferring not only our shopping online but our learning as well. Let’s face it, we do not take online learning seriously. In times like these, however, we need to be progressive and consider online learning as a valid alternative to traditional education. With distance learning, we have the opportunity to recruit the most qualified teachers, no matter what their country of residence. The content and quality of online education is no different than face-to-face education in traditional schools, and the innovative applications that we now have at our disposal allow teachers and students to interact as they normally would.
Some will argue that we need traditional education as it builds social skills and allows students the confidence to engage properly with teachers and peers. This is a valid point. To meet this need, I would propose that we designate a physical facility for each specific distance learning school, where students can interact with each other and see their teachers on a regular basis. Of course, I am not proposing this at the moment with the coronavirus scare hanging over us! I am urging, rather, that we begin to accept the concept of distance learning and accredit these schools as we would physical schools. This will relieve pressure on overcrowding in traditional schools and bring quality education to rural areas with internet capacity.
As I said earlier, we are in the fourth industrial revolution, but companies still want employees to use the automated fingerprint identification system coming in and out of work. The concept of remote work is still not accepted as a full-time job in many places. In my opinion, anywhere you have a laptop and internet connection should be considered a workplace. I can hold meetings, submit projects and give presentations all online without ever physically being present in the office. In the near future, there will be no need for office space rental, as everything will be done from our home. This concept has not yet been widely assimilated by Saudi companies, but it is in times like these that we are beginning to see private and public sector jobs get a taste of remote work. Will online work finally take off and become widely accepted after the dust from the coronavirus scare settles? Only time will tell us.
Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj is a best-selling Saudi author, an international public speaker and an entrepreneurship mentor.