LEBANON: Ever since the coronavirus disease was declared a global pandemic, no country has been left untouched by its effects. It has turned our lives upside down and changed our habits, compelling us to create new ones.
The situation has forced most of us to remain in our homes and has placed the internet at the center of our daily lives more so than ever before.
Millions now who can afford computers and broadband connections are using the internet to work, hang out with friends and family and even exercise.
The internet has also become an indispensable tool for students as they try to salvage their academic year.
Distance learning was not common in the Arab world before the pandemic hit, but it has since become essential for teachers and students.
This, in turn, has given rise to many virtual platforms, one of which is vTeacher, a distance-learning platform launched by Syrian software engineer Walid Shayib, who currently resides in Istanbul, Turkey.
The platform, which was launched on March 21, is freely available in all Arab countries. It uses an open-source Moodle software to facilitate the process of continuing the academic year despite current circumstances.
“There are 160 independent teachers using the platform, while the number of schools is limited to only two,” Shayeb said. “The platform is not limited to Syria only though; it is for any teacher in the Arab region who wants to use it.”
Shayib says vTeacher has an English and French interface (at the request of teachers from Algeria) in addition to the Arabic one.
He admits that participation of teachers in vTeacher is still minimal as the platform is new and most teachers have modest experience in dealing with digital platforms.
“In order to solve this problem, I have formed a team of volunteers, with more than 500 people wanting to help,” Shayib said. “These volunteers will provide technical support to teachers and help them in using the platform and adding students to it.”
The main feature of vTeacher is that it can be used through a dedicated mobile application and that, according to Shayib, “it is free from distractions unlike Facebook and WhatsApp.”
So, what does a teacher need to use the platform? Only an email address and a password to create an account that allows teachers to add students and begin the educational process, according to Shayib.
Number of independent teachers using vTeacher platform to date
This platform offers multiple features: It permits teachers to add lessons as blogs, videos or even set up polls, as Shayib explains.
Teachers can also create tests, follow up on homework and carry out the grading process, as well as create a forum for students to discuss specific topics.
The interaction with the platform is still small, but it will undoubtedly increase as most schools in Arab countries close and resort to distance education.
“If the situation does not change, I will allocate more time to providing teachers with technical support,” Shayib said. “I will also develop more additions to the platform, such as a live broadcast feature.”
There is no doubt that teachers and students will welcome any virtual tool that aims to improve and facilitate distance learning and transform it into a more professional process, away from groups on platforms such as WhatsApp or Skype.
The hope is that engineers and entrepreneurs such as Walid Shayib will join efforts in these difficult times to improve distance education.
- This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.