Resilience is key for post-pandemic education systems
We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the world, infecting more than 11.5 million people. The health crisis has weighed on economies and people’s livelihoods, forcing governments to enforce social distancing and self-isolation. This has largely confined people indoors, halting large parts of public civil life and most importantly, regular schooling. Academic institutions have dramatically changed course in a bid to limit the spread of the virus. Campuses have closed their doors and technology has taken their place as distance learning has become the norm for education systems globally. With more than 12 million learners in the UAE and wider GCC countries, there is a significant responsibility on regional governments to provide a robust education curriculum and framework to act as the backbone that supports the wider education ecosystem.
The previous health crises of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Ebola Virus Disease (EBOV), highlighted additional social costs for governments and long-term implications. Today in response to COVID-19, the UAE’s Ministry of Education believes e-learning could continue into the next academic year and has outlined strategies to sustain knowledge development in the country. Policymakers have discussed best practices, including collaboration tools and engagement methods, in an effort to progress future learning and push for an inclusive student community. Meanwhile, the nation has rolled out online learning tools to ease the burden on students and teachers and accelerate e-learning and digital platforms in the education system.
This rapid response has proved successful in the short-term but the impact of the pandemic could be felt for a longer period. Prolonged school and university closures will result in the loss of 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent of GDP every four weeks, according to Oliver Wyman estimates.
Therefore, policymakers and delivery institutions in the region need to build resilience into their education systems to ensure continuity of quality learning during times of public crisis and over the long term.
The shift in philosophy and focus toward distance learning requires a holistic strategy from governments that considers all key stakeholders including education leadership, suppliers and providers, in addition to beneficiaries across the dimensions of policy response, financial measures, structural changes and social considerations to ensure education continuity and resilience against future crises.
Some countries in the GCC have proven to be more progressive in their planning, development and deployment. The UAE has focused on training teachers and tutors, in addition to offering advisory plans for distance learning in schools and higher education institutions, including the training of 34,200 school public and private teachers and administrators in creating virtual learning communities. Saudi Arabia has launched a new remote teaching award to promote assessment excellence, while Kuwait has amended its academic calendar, Bahrain has implemented online partnerships and Oman has launched digital solutions to aid distance learning through televised lessons.
Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for governments in the Middle East to build on their robust measures by addressing challenges and embracing innovative solutions to build a student-centric ecosystem that substantially transforms learning. Kindergarten, schools and universities must balance high quality standards against budgets, bearing in mind the increased cost of digital solutions. Suppliers have the opportunity to provide the infrastructure to promote distance learning and emotional and behavioral support while supporting a rapid post-pandemic recovery.
Keeping the needs of students, teachers and parents at the forefront of measures, increases the effectiveness of policies and investment for the continued benefit of education systems in the GCC once the region overcomes the health crisis.
• Abdulkarim Alyousef is a partner at Oliver Wyman