RIYADH: With no concrete information about when students are likely to return to classrooms, parents and teachers are content with virtual learning until further news is released by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Education.
Schools in the Kingdom officially closed on March 9, which means students have gone for months without seeing their teachers and classmates in person because the pandemic and the coronavirus lockdown not only shut down campuses, it severely restricted social interaction too.
Shifting to online teaching was a smart move by school authorities once the pandemic started, but virtual learning is no substitute for regular classes and face-to-face interaction although parents, pupils and teachers were able to adjust to the new scenario within a few weeks.
But there are mixed views on virtual learning among parents and teachers. Some find it acceptable and others do not but, until further notice, online classes are here to stay.
Mennatallah Elmeligie, a teacher at an international school in Riyadh, said it was difficult to start virtual schooling for kindergarten-aged children as teachers needed to engage with them and make an extra effort in order to build trust and friendships before turning to virtual learning. They required time at first “so that when they hear your voice in the online sessions they easily feel engaged with the teacher,” she told Arab News. “As a teacher my challenge was to stir interest in the kids, without physically involving them in an activity or a game as we used to share in regular campus classes.”
Elmeligie added that she was lucky to have students engage with her, understand their lessons and interact with her through virtual learning, whereas some teachers faced difficulties in encouraging their students to interact as their participation was an important part of the education process.
“We were motivating the kids to wake up early for the sessions since we followed our normal school timings. My classes were broadcast live every morning on weekdays so that was also a challenge,” she added.
But she described the experience of building classes online, and ensuring children logged in, as stressful.
Shahana Parveen, a teacher at New Middle East International School in Riyadh, said that conducting online classes had been very challenging in the beginning because neither parents nor students were not used to the format. “But now the students are well trained to handle online class applications and they have started enjoying it,” she told Arab News. “Despite the fact that technology has helped schools carry out their academic activities during the pandemic, online classes are no substitute for physical teaching in the classrooms.”
She wanted children to go back to school because it was required for students’ mental and physical development.
“One-on-one interaction between the classmates, teachers and students, performing extra curricular activities and the school’s overall educational environment play a significant role in shaping the personality of students, something that cannot be substituted with online classes,” she emphasized.
While parents had different views on virtual lessons, they agreed on the many challenges it presented.
“Shifting to online classes after the coronavirus outbreak was a smart move by the schools as it helped in continuing with the academic activities, concluding the session as well as beginning the new session in time,” Iffat Aabroo, a parent in Riyadh, told Arab News. “But it also came with some challenges as it is really tough as a parent to manage home affairs as well as online classes for kids simultaneously, especially when a parent is working from home.”
The situation became even more challenging when both parents were working and had to do so from home, managing household affairs and kids’ online classes, she said.
“I would wake up early with my daughter and set up the area to put things in order and there would be constant delays and lagging in the internet sometimes.”
She suggested that teachers ration homework and avoid giving unnecessary assignments as online classes had made things tough for parents because their role was bigger than before.
Another parent, Arshin Fathima, hoped and expected that things would go back to normal for schoolchildren because of the decreasing number of coronavirus cases.
“Of course the online classes were productive but it does take a toll on the routine of parents with constant monitoring and juggling between your children’s needs and e-gadgets and social or peer interaction being compromised as well,” she told Arab News. “If the schools are reopening then, as a concerned parent, obviously my children’s health and safety is my priority. I am apprehensive a bit but, if the school ensures they will maintain strict hygiene standards and give us a protocol on how they will follow childcare guidelines, it would give us a sense of relief and trust before we send our children back to schools.”
Schools are meant to resume teaching, virtually or otherwise, on Aug. 30.