RIYADH: Distance learning will push Saudi Arabia forward on the path to digital transformation, experts say.
It is one of the innovative learning methods being used in Saudi Arabia to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but education officials also believe that distance learning can improve the level of education, reduce spending on education and increase users’ satisfaction.
Experts told Arab News that they are hopeful that distance education will contribute to developing the digital economy, provide equal opportunities for everyone, make education available indefinitely, provide learning opportunities for employees, improve the financial efficiency of the education sector, ensure that graduates meet the demands of the labor market, and create modern and innovative trends in the education sector.
Prof. Saad Haj Bakry, the author of “Knowledge Society Ecosystem,” said: “We live in the physical space that is the whole world around us. However, many of our activities in the physical space are done through what we now call the cyberspace that is the digital world of the internet and its various applications and services. Cyberspace is becoming increasingly involved in enabling information-based activities in all fields to be performed remotely.”
After the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in the early years of the 21st century, many information-based activities were transformed from being performed in the physical space to becoming performed through cyberspace, he explained. This is usually called “digital transformation,” and the fields that responded to this transformation include government services, trade, banking and, to a lesser extent, education, mostly at the higher level.
With COVID-19 invading the world, using digital transformation for performing activities remotely was an essential resistance tool for facing the virus, Prof. Bakry said. Learning, at all levels, had to respond and become remote, he said. Where education was concerned with theoretical subjects that involve knowledge transfer and knowledge-sharing through dialogue with students above the elementary level, quality could easily be maintained using cyberspace technology. However, for practical subjects that involve lab work, and for younger students who need special attention, maintaining quality is questionable.
He said that cyberspace was rapidly increasing its capabilities. Intelligent devices performing intelligent functions are becoming part of cyberspace, opening the way for solving problems in different fields, including education. If COVID-19 pushed education to go remote, it also pushed artificial intelligence toward a new future dimension that enables quality education to be performed remotely at all levels and in all subjects.
Dr. Rafiq Jamaldeen, a professor at College of Computer and Information Sciences, King Saud University in Riyadh, said that distance education offered several advantages, such as health quarantine during pandemics.
As a professor who has spent more than 20 years teaching computer science, Jamaldeen believes that distance education’s most important advantage is its ability to offer flexible alternatives and better opportunities for students to learn, and also enable the physically challenged to enroll in schools.
Distance education saves students money because they do not have to be physically present at the college and offers them a variety of options in choosing courses and programs of study. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made millions of students around the world resort to distance education and invest in this type of education. The distance education applications offer advanced technology for students to help them learn. But for primary grade students, distance education faces some challenges, such as the difficulty teachers face in controlling students,” he said.
Distance education requires strict control of virtual classes and commitment on the part of students, as well as computer literacy.
Prof. Jamaldeen called on those among the general public who view distance education negatively to reconsider their views and try to take advantage of this great tool.
He said that he also understood that some families could not afford high-speed internet subscription charges and might find it difficult to use distance education.