Coronavirus drives remote learning’s acceptance in the Middle East and beyond

Coronavirus drives remote learning’s acceptance in the Middle East and beyond
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School buses parked outside a closed school in Dubai. The new coronavirus has turned life upside down in Gulf societies. (AFP)
Coronavirus drives remote learning’s acceptance in the Middle East and beyond
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Across the region, schools are shut, there are no shisha pipe sessions, streets, mosques and shopping malls are deserted, with drones patrolling the skies broadcasting public health warnings. (AFP)
Coronavirus drives remote learning’s acceptance in the Middle East and beyond
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Across the region, schools are shut, there are no shisha pipe sessions, streets, mosques and shopping malls are deserted, with drones patrolling the skies broadcasting public health warnings. (AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2020

Coronavirus drives remote learning’s acceptance in the Middle East and beyond

Coronavirus drives remote learning’s acceptance in the Middle East and beyond
  • Data shows pandemic is changing how education is imparted in schools and universities worldwide
  • With attendance suspended at education institutions, students are obliged to study from home

DUBAI: It has been 11 weeks since the World Health Organization’s (WHO) China office heard the first reports of a virus that officials suspected was behind an outbreak of pneumonia infections in Wuhan, an eastern city with a population of over 11 million.

Since then, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has gone from being an epidemic mainly limited to China to a global pandemic. The highly infectious nature of the virus has meant that increased numbers of students are now obliged to study from home.

According to UNESCO monitoring, over 120 countries have implemented nationwide school and university closures. The impact is being felt by over 70 percent of total enrolled learners globally.

In the US, one of the few countries yet to enforce a country-wide closure, at least 43 states have closed schools.

FASTFacts

  • There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.
  • The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
  • COVID-19 causes respiratory illness with symptoms such as cough, fever and, in more severe cases, difficulty breathing.

In the Middle East, governments have been quick to react, ordering mandatory suspension of attendance.

Even before the full closure of schools, data collected by global research company YouGov showed that 45 percent of parents in Saudi Arabia were taking voluntary measures to stop sending their children to school.

The reasons for taking precautions are compelling. COVID-19 spreads primarily through contact with an infected person who disseminates the virus by coughing or sneezing. It also spreads when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.

While COVID-19 is especially dangerous for older people and those with underlying illnesses, studies have shown that people of all ages can become infected by the new virus.

The WHO has urged young people to avoid socializing in order to not risk communicating the virus to older, more vulnerable people. The organization now recommends “physical distance” to help prevent transmission of the virus.

“I have a message for young people: You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said in a recent online message.

 

“Even if you don't get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”

While businesses around the world are postponing and cancelling face-to-face meetings in order to slow the spread of infections, workplace learning is emerging as one of the earliest and hardest-hit business activities.

Based on McKinsey & Company observations, as of early March, roughly half of face-to-face learning programs through June 30, 2020 have been postponed or canceled in North America. In parts of Asia and Europe, the figure is closer to 100 percent.

In Saudi Arabia, YouGov’s COVID-19 tracker reports that 25 percent of employees are working from home, while in the UAE the corresponding figure is 29 percent. Both of these figures are expected to rise in the coming weeks.

Students, however, cannot afford to postpone their programs, and institutions are quickly learning to adapt.

Until the pandemic began, academic institutions had a history of pushing back against online learning.




Hong Kong students will learn from home as COVID-19 causes school closures. (AFP)

When Times Higher Education surveyed the leaders of prominent global universities in 2018 — 200 participants from 45 countries across six continents — the response was clear. Academics were skeptical about the potential for online learning.

Research comparing physical learning in a classroom over an online experience draws mixed conclusions.

Educational researchers Robert Bernard, Eugene Borokhovski and Richard Schmid, from the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance at Concordia University, Canada, told the Times Higher Education in 2018 that they knew of “no empirical evidence that says that classroom instruction benefits students (compared to alternatives) from a learning achievement perspective.”

More important than the medium was whether teachers could “capture and challenge the imagination, based on the learners’ pre-existing knowledge,” according to the researchers.

Given the lack of options for face-to-face learning under the circumstances, the world’s education system has been thrust into an e-learning experiment of unprecedented scale and scope.

While the process may be uncomfortable for parents, teachers and students alike, the opportunities for innovation are apparent.

“I think we’re seeing the way people live, the way people work, and the way people learn change,” said Amanda Line, partner at PwC Academy, a firm that specializes in finance and business education.

“At PwC Academy Middle East, we have changed our approach to training, to focus 100 percent on online live classrooms,” Line said.

“We all know that it’s very hard sitting on the other side of a screen.

“Our focus is on engagement and so we are investing in gamification, video, animation and live online interaction to ensure participation. You have to be engaged in order to learn.”

COVID-19 is indisputably one of the most urgent cross-border and cross-demographic problems in recent history. As such it has reminded people that the best organizations are those that collaborate generously with others.

UNESCO, for example, has developed a page with educational applications and platforms to help parents, teachers, schools and school systems facilitate student learning, as well as provide social care and interaction during periods of school closure.

Other platforms such as Coursera have also offered to be available globally to any university affected by COVID-19 for free.

On March 20 the audiobook platform from Amazon announced: “For as long as schools are closed, we’re open.”

In Saudi Arabia, where educational institutions have been closed since March 8 to contain the spread of the virus, the majority of schools and universities have implemented e-learning programs to enable students to continue their education.

To support university students and members, raise the quality of virtual classrooms and learning platforms, and improve access to national digital services, the Saudi Research and Innovation Network (Maeen) has teamed up with the Integrated Telecom Company. 




Laptops for students remotely learning in New York City. (AFP)

Their mission is to “increase the data quota between some of the Kingdom’s universities and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology free of charge,” according to the Saudi Press Agency.

In Dubai, where schools, colleges and nurseries have also been closed, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) has launched a new online platform for learning.

Parents, students and teachers in Dubai can take advantage of the platform, which features education products and services.

The portal http://inthistogetherdubai.khda.gov.ae has been launched to connect technology and well-being-based organizations with teachers, parents and students who are teaching and learning from home.

It will feature apps, websites and support that will be offered free of charge during the distance-learning period.

While the platform is available to use, KHDA is looking for support from the education and learning community to provide content and free access to resources.

“Many people in our community have been coming to us to offer or ask for help during this time,” Dr Abdulla Al-Karam, director-general of KHDA, said.

“This portal is one way of connecting those who have useful products and services with those who need them," Al-Karam said.

“In the last few days and weeks, it has become clear that for our community, the term distance learning applies to physical distance only.

“Socially and emotionally, we are more connected to each other than ever before. We’re all in this together. Distance brings us closer.”

In a matter of weeks, measures to halt the spread of a previously unknown virus that originated from a seafood market in China’s Wuhan city have changed how millions around the world are educated.


90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
A doctor from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) checks a rescued migrant's identity before administering a Coronavirus test, in Ben Guerdane, southern Tunisia, Saturday June 12, 2021. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
  • Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities

CAIRO: Ninety Egyptians who had been detained at the headquarters of illegal immigration in Tripoli since last Friday have been released, said the head of Egypt’s Diplomatic Mission in Libya’s capital.
Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities.
He thanked the Libyan interior minister, officials and local authorities for their efforts, which Selim said reflect the close relations between the two countries. He added that most of those released were from Minya Governorate.


Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi receives Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of their meeting in Cairo on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
  • El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s solidarity with Greece, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs

CAIRO: Egypt will stand in solidarity with Greece against any threat to its sovereignty, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said.

The Egyptian president was speaking at a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis following talks between the two leaders in Cairo.
El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s firm position in the eastern Mediterranean, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs, stressing solidarity with Greece.
“Relations with Greece are a model for cooperation and integration at the regional level, as Egypt and Greece share distinguished friendship ties,” he said, adding that Egypt’s position in the eastern Mediterranean region is consistent, and respects the sovereignty and territorial waters of countries.
He also stressed the necessity of disbanding militias in Libya, saying that Egypt and Greece agreed on the need to start an effective political movement in the country following the exit of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting the Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

FASTFACT

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. They stressed the importance of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which would open up prospects for cooperation and investment between the countries of the region in the field of energy and gas.
The two sides stressed the importance of reaching a fair and balanced legal agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built by Ethiopia in a manner that achieves the interests of the downstream countries and maintains regional stability.
Extensive talks were held between Egypt and Greece, co-chaired by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and his Greek counterpart.
Madbouly voiced his hopes of strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the field of energy, electrical interconnection across the island of Crete, and working with the Greek government to export natural gas surplus to Europe.
He referred to recent efforts made by the Egyptian government to provide a healthy and safe environment for tourists, in order to restore the incoming tourism movement, calling on the Greek side to strengthen tourism cooperation between the two countries.
Mohamed Shaker, minister of electricity and renewable energy indicated that he is working in coordination with the Ministry of Petroleum to finalize the study of the proposed memorandum of understanding for cooperation with Greece in this regard.
Tarek El Molla, minister of petroleum and mineral resources, expressed his aspiration to sign a long-term cooperation agreement in the field of gas, and expressed his readiness to receive all the details of the Greek side’s needs in this regard.


Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis
Updated 23 June 2021

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis
  • Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib
  • Austrian FM: Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia are unacceptable

ALEXANDRIA: Fighting between Yemeni loyalists and Houthi rebels seeking to take the strategic northern city of Marib has killed 90 fighters in two days, pro-government military sources said on Tuesday.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government’s forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.

The Ministry of Defense said that dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.

Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city in clashes that left 63 rebels and 27 loyalist fighters dead since Monday.

The Ministry of Defense said the Houthis lost a significant amount of military equipment.

State media on Tuesday broadcast videos showing government forces exchanging mortar and heavy machine gun fire with the Houthis as a large convoy of vehicles rushed to reinforce government troops.

Bodies of dead Houthis were also seen scattered on the battlefield.

Yemeni Army commanders and government officials said that massive military support, logistics and air cover from the Arab coalition have shored up Yemeni government forces and helped thwart relentless Houthi assaults on Marib.

Lt. Col. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at the Yemeni Army’s Moral Guidance Department, told Arab News that military operations and airstrikes in Marib have greatly worn down the Houthis, with the rebels losing thousands of fighters, including many senior commanders.

“The Houthi militia has been largely depleted. The Arab coalition warplanes played a vital role in striking its reinforcements and weapons depots and destroying its equipment,” Al-Mekhlafi said.

To seize control of Marib’s oil and gas fields and power stations, the Houthis resumed a major military offensive in February.

The effort has forced thousands of Yemenis to flee their homes amid warnings from local and international aid organizations that the Houthi invasion of Marib would aggravate the humanitarian crisis and trigger a large displacement, with the city hosting thousands of internally displaced people.

The government and military commanders have vowed to push ahead with military operations in Marib until the Houthis are defeated and justice is brought to rebel leaders who ordered attacks on civilians across Yemen.

Yemen’s official news agency reported on Monday that Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed telephoned senior military commanders in Marib to renew the government’s support to troops and allied tribesmen in their “decisive” battle against the Houthis, vowing to punish the Iran-backed force for disrupting peace efforts to end the war and killing and abducting Yemenis.

The Yemeni Army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sagheer bin Aziz, also said that its troops and tribesmen have high combat skills and morale.

He said they follow military plans and that “the force of arms” alone would put an end to the Houthi militia’s takeover of power.

“They would destroy the capabilities of the Iranian Houthi terrorist militia and force them to surrender by force of arms, as that is the only way to restore the state and end the suffering of our people,” Bin Aziz tweeted.

 

Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia denounced

Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Tuesday condemned the relentless Houthi attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia, describing them as “unacceptable.”

Saudi Arabia’s air defenses intercepted and destroyed a booby-trapped drone launched by the militia toward southern Saudi Arabia, state TV reported.

The drone was targeting the city of Khamis Mushayt. The Arab coalition said this was the latest example of the Houthis deliberately targeting civilians and civilian targets.

At a press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Schallenberg said Vienna supports developments taking place across Saudi Arabia in several areas.

Prince Faisal said the Houthi militia has regularly rejected initiatives for a complete ceasefire, and always resorted to escalating the situation.


Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
Updated 22 June 2021

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
  • Family were preparing for journey to Beirut airport to meet father as he returned from working abroad
  • Lebanon facing vast queues for petrol amid fuel shortage and economic crisis

BEIRUT: A Lebanese mother and her four daughters were killed when their car was hit by a military vehicle as they searched for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage.

The family were preparing to travel from southern Lebanon to Beirut airport this week to pick up the daughters’ father, who was expected to fly home from working abroad.

Fatima Koubeissi, her twins Tia and Lia, 4, and her two other daughters Aya, 13, and Zahra, 17, were killed when the military vehicle hit their car from behind on Monday night. Another relative, Hussein Zein, 22, who was driving their car, died on Tuesday from his injuries.

The sisters had not seen their father, Imad Hawile, since he went looking for a job in Liberia five months ago, their uncle Qassim Hawile told Arab News.

Amid a worsening economic crisis, Lebanon is suffering massive fuel shortages with long queues outside petrol stations leading to traffic jams on nearby roads.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces [ISF] traffic control section reported a number of recent accidents caused by petrol queues.

The family from Al-Sharqeyye village went searching for petrol on Monday afternoon to prepare for the journey to the airport on Wednesday.

“We have not been able to find petrol across the south,” Qassim said.

ISF’s traffic control said the accident involved five cars and took place on the Jeyye-Saida highway.

A cousin of Fatima told Arab News that the accident happened because of a “vehicle that came in the opposite direction of the road wanting to bypass a queue outside a petrol station.
“They (the mother and four daughters) died on the spot,” he said.

Qassim said his brother contracted malaria during his first month in Liberia and then a second time “so he decided to return for better medication.”

“We did not want my brother to know that his family died in the crash but he saw the news and images on Facebook,” said Qassim.

He said the funeral was expected to take place on Thursday.

The accident happened when their driver saw two BMWs rammed into each other so he stopped but the military vehicle came and hit them from the back, sending it into a pick-up truck, Qassim said.
Civil Defense and Red Cross teams attended the scene and moved the injured and the dead to nearby hospitals.

Petrol stations have been constantly low on subsidized petrol for weeks, but shortages worsened in June as people’s fears of rationing and shortages intensified, leading to a large number of petrol stations closing down.

A number of fistfights, heated arguments and shootings have taken place between irritated drivers.
Last week, three people were injured in an accident outside a petrol station where cars were queueing on the highway connecting Beirut to southern.


Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam
Updated 22 June 2021

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

Sudan asks UN Security Council to meet over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam
  • Sudan requests UNSC to discuss GERD and ‘its impact on the safety and security of millions of people’
  • Foreign minister is urging Ethiopia to stop the unilateral filling of the dam

KHARTOUM: Sudan asked the UN Security Council on Tuesday to meet and discuss a dispute over a giant dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, a government statement said.
Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), while the two downstream countries — Egypt and Sudan — are concerned about it and seeking a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.
Egypt relies on the Nile River for as much as 90 percent of its fresh water and sees the dam as an existential threat. Sudan is concerned about the operation of its own Nile dams and water stations.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq Al-Mahdi called on the Security Council to hold a session as soon as possible to discuss GERD and “its impact on the safety and security of millions of people,” the government statement said.
In a letter to the council head, she called on him to urge Ethiopia to stop the “unilateral” filling of the dam “which exacerbates the dispute and poses a threat to regional and international peace and security,” the statement added.
Ethiopian officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Sudan and Egypt had already agreed this month to work together on all levels to push Ethiopia to negotiate “seriously” on an agreement, after African Union-sponsored talks remained deadlocked. The two countries called on the international community to intervene.
Earlier this month, Arab states called on the Security Council to discuss the dispute and Ethiopia’s plans to go ahead with the second filling of the dam this summer even without an agreement with Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia rejected the Arab League resolution in its entirety, its Foreign Ministry said.
The country previously rejected calls from Egypt and Sudan to involve mediators outside the African Union.
Sudan said earlier in June that it was open to a partial interim agreement on the multibillion-dollar dam, with specific conditions.