Pandemic school closures inspire a Middle East e-learning revolution

Pandemic school closures inspire a Middle East e-learning revolution
This picture taken on March 23, 2020 shows Palestinian teacher Jihad Abu Sharar presenting an online class from her home in the village of Dura near Hebron in the occupied West Bank, after schools were closed as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 10 October 2020

Pandemic school closures inspire a Middle East e-learning revolution

Pandemic school closures inspire a Middle East e-learning revolution
  • COVID-19 caused the biggest disruption to the education system in history, forcing governments to get creative
  • With the onset of the new school year, some MENA countries intend to continue with e-learning as a primary tool

KUWAIT: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was quick to adopt and adapt to an online learning model — even as the pandemic was at its height. Now, with economies opening up, the region has an open-ended view on school closures.

According to a UN policy brief released in August 2020, the the coronavirus outbreak has caused unprecedented disruption to education systems around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries. In the MENA region alone, the pandemic was responsible for shutting down learning facilities for almost 100 million students aged between 5 and 17.

Governments in the more affluent countries of the region have been quick to opt for several multi-modal approaches, mostly online, to make up for lost classroom time. Many countries like the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia promoted the use of e-learning platforms, with the Kingdom opening up its national education portal Ain for more than 6 million users and providing 30,000 devices for students in need.

In Egypt and Palestine, governments provided free SIM cards for students and professors to access learning platforms, while telecom operators in Tunisia and Morocco offered free access to online educational portals.




Even as schools have started to reopen across the globe, most countries in the MENA region have opted for a more cautious approach. (AFP/File Photo)

Jordan, one of the first countries in the region to respond to the crisis by closing all educational institutions, developed a learning platform called Darsa, and dedicated two TV channels to facilitate classes and lectures for students lacking access to online facilities.

For now, these efforts are impressive, in the sense that they facilitate a temporary learning environment for millions of students who would otherwise have lost out on schooling.

Even as schools have started to reopen across the globe, most countries in the MENA region have opted for a more cautious approach — to continue with an exclusively online model or to go hybrid with smaller class sizes in order to reduce the physical presence of students as much as possible.

Parallel to the online model is the shadow of cybercrime as students and teachers join Zoom or Microsoft Team sessions, exchanging details and personal information. While adults are aware of the risks associated with online engagements, students need guidance and monitoring, even as they adapt to this kind of learning model.




According to a UN policy brief released in August 2020, the the coronavirus outbreak has caused unprecedented disruption to education systems around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries. (AFP/File Photo)

Countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have basic security and confidentiality laws with special emphasis on social media and defamatory behavior online.

The UAE has released an official manual titled “Students’ Behavior Management,” listing what can be regarded as online offenses and outlining the responsibilities of all stakeholders.

As the new school year starts in the region, some countries have opted to reopen with health measures in place, while others such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia plan to continue with e-learning as a primary tool.

With the online model here to stay, some countries have also introduced supplementary add-ons, such as Rawy Kids (Egypt) or Kitabi Book Reader (Lebanon), to diversify distance-learning tools. Partnerships such as the agreement between UNESCO Beirut and Education Cannot Wait will to ensure remote continuity.

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READ MORE: UNESCO praises Saudi Arabia for keeping education going during COVID-19 lockdown

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The UAE’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority has launched “In This Together Dubai,” a collaboration between the government, private organizations and institutions across the globe that will deliver free access to websites, apps and other educational resources.

Bahrain’s education ministry has set up a dedicated platform in conjunction with international cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services that will cater to about 146,000 students and more than 18,000 teachers, according to Oxford Business Group estimates.

Eventually, all schools are expected to reopen. For now, as the region braces itself for the fallout from the dip in oil prices, the implications of a post-pandemic economy and the approaching flu season, countries have opted for a more conservative mode of teaching in lieu of taking risks.

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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.


Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit
Updated 34 min 48 sec ago

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit
  • During Mostafa Madbouly’s visit, several agreements were signed between the two governments, most notably on the establishment of power stations in Libya
  • Libya is considered a natural extension of the Egyptian market, due to the geographical proximity and long history of trade exchange and cooperation between the two countries

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, accompanied by a team of ministers, visited Tripoli on Tuesday to discuss economic and political cooperation with the Libyan Government of National Unity.

It followed instructions from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is planning a visit to Libya.

During Madbouly’s visit, several agreements were signed between the two governments, most notably on the establishment of power stations in Libya to strengthen its energy networks.

Libya is considered a natural extension of the Egyptian market, due to the geographical proximity and long history of trade exchange and cooperation between the two countries.

Egyptian companies are awaiting government decisions regarding participation in the reconstruction of Libya, which they hope will produce new opportunities in a renewed market.

According to local sources, Madbouly’s visit is focussed on investments in the country, Egyptian labor issues and the reopening of diplomatic missions.

Last month, El-Sisi discussed with the head of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed Al-Menfi, prospects for enhanced cooperation between the two countries.

El-Sisi stressed Egypt’s full and absolute support for the new executive authority in Libya in all fields and for its success in holding general elections at the end of the year.

He said Egypt was fully prepared to provide its expertise to the Libyan government to help restore its national institutions, especially security and police forces, to achieve greater stability.

Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, Egypt has promoted political settlement by hosting the warring factions in key meetings.


Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria
Updated 20 April 2021

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria
  • OPCW members are proposing to strip Syria of its rights at the agency in response to findings government forces used poison gas
  • U.N. director at Human Rights Watch hopes the move will encourage countries to prosecute individuals for criminal responsibility

AMSTERDAM: Members of the global chemical weapons watchdog considered a proposal on Tuesday to strip Syria of its rights at the Hague-based agency in response to findings that government forces repeatedly used poison gas.
A draft document, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, was circulated among the 193 members at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
It was proposed by 46 nations, including the United States, Britain and France.
Syria and its military ally Russia have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the decade-old conflict, which has turned the once-technical agency into a flashpoint between rival political forces and deadlocked the UN Security Council.
The Russian and Syrian delegations at the OPCW did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The draft decision, which must win a two-thirds majority of members attending and voting during a meeting of the OPCW’s governing Conference of States Parties this week, proposes revoking voting rights and banning Damascus from holding any offices within the OPCW.
The draft, which could be put to a vote on Wednesday, said the ongoing use “establishes that the Syrian Arab Republic failed to declare and destroy all of its chemical weapons” after joining the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, hopes the move will encourage countries to prosecute individuals for criminal responsibility.
“While this may be largely symbolic, it’s an important step toward holding the Syrian leadership accountable for their war crimes while confronting the biggest compliance crisis that parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention have ever faced,” he said.
Several investigations at the United Nations and by the OPCW’s special Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded that Syrian government forces used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine barrel bombs, in attacks between 2015 and 2018 that investigators said killed or injured thousands.
Last week, the OPCW’s IIT concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that Syria’s air force dropped a chlorine bomb on a residential neighborhood in the rebel-controlled Idlib region in February 2018. Syria dismissed the findings.


Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'
Updated 38 min 57 sec ago

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'
  • The results of the investigation for those involved ‘constituted a clear threat to the security and stability of the kingdom’

LONDON: An investigation into recent events that threatened to undermine Jordan’s security and stability has ended, the kingdom’s public prosecution said on Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Hazem Al-Majali said: “The Public Prosecution of the State Security Court has completed its investigations relating to the events that the kingdom was exposed to recently.”
On April 5, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi announced that more than a dozen individuals had been arrested on charges of undermining the security of the state.
“It became clear from the investigation that it contained different and varied roles and facts for those involved, which would have constituted a clear threat to the security and stability of the kingdom,” Brig. Gen. Al-Majali added.
He also said the State Security Prosecution is working on completing the final stages of the investigation and the legal procedures required to refer them to the State Security Court,” Jordanian news agency Petra reported.


Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 37 min 31 sec ago

Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm
  • Country has seen three accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead, some 320 injured

CAIRO: Egypt’s transportation minister on Tuesday said he sacked the country’s top railway official, following three train accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead and some 320 injured.
The firing of Asharf Raslan, head of the railway authority, was part of a wide ranging overhaul of the rundown railway system's leadership amid public outcry over repeated train crashes.
Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm, the office of Transportation Minister Kamal el-Wazir said in a statement.
The changes included the main departments of the railway authority that manages train traffic in the Arab world’s most populous country.

READ MORE

At least 11 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in a train accident in Egypt on Sunday. Click here for more.

The overhaul was designed to “inject a number of competent professionals” amid efforts to upgrade the poorly-maintained network.
The changes came after a passenger train derailed Sunday north of Cairo, killing at least 11 people and injuring at least 98 others. That followed another train crash in the Nile Delta province of Sharqia last week that left 15 people wounded.
After Sunday’s crash, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced the establishment of an official commission to investigate its causes. Prosecutors also launched their own probe.
On March 25, two passenger trains collided in the southern province of Sohag, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200 others, including children. Prosecutors blamed gross negligence by railway employees for that crash.
The country’s railway system, one of the world's oldest, has a history of badly maintained equipment and poor management.

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it expresses its deep sorrow for the train accident north of the Egyptian capital Cairo. Click here for more.

The government says it has launched a broad renovation and modernization initiative, buying train cars and other equipment from European and U.S. manufacturers to automate the system and develop a domestic railcar industry.
El-Sissi said in March 2018 that the government needs about 250 billion Egyptian pounds, or $14.1 billion, to overhaul the run-down rail system.
Hundreds of train accidents are reported every year. In February 2019 an unmanned locomotive slammed into a barrier inside Cairo’s main Ramses railway station, causing a huge explosion and a fire that killed at least 25 people. That crash prompted the then-transportation minister to resign.
In August 2017, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.
Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when over 300 people were killed after a fire broke out in an overnight train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.


Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests
Updated 20 April 2021

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests
  • Indictment says suspects defied ban on rallies imposed to combat coronavirus pandemic
  • Prosecutors seeking 6 months to 3 years in jail for suspects' participation in unlawful rallies

ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday demanded jail terms for 97 people who joined student protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a party loyalist as a top university’s rector.
According to Anadolu state news agency, the indictment said the suspects defied a ban on rallies imposed as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutors are seeking jail terms from six months to three years because of the suspects’ non-compliance with a law on “unarmed participation in unlawful rallies and refusal to disperse despite the warnings,” Anadolu said.
No date was given for the first hearing.
The protest movement — the biggest to rattle Erdogan’s rule in years — kicked off when the Turkish leader appointed longstanding ruling party member Melih Bulu as rector of Bogazici University at the start of the year.
The rallies began inside the campus grounds before spreading to the streets of Istanbul and other big cities with the backing of government opponents and supporters of broader LGBT rights.
The indictment specifically refers to a February 1 protest in Istanbul in which several groups defied police warnings and rallied outside the university’s locked gate.
Police roughly rounded up 108 people that day.
Ninety-seven of them were later released and a probe was launched against them by the prosecutor’s office, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors are conducting separate inquiries against the 11 remaining people, one of whom is underage.
The student demonstrations had echoes of 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and posing the first big political dilemma for Erdogan.
He has compared student protesters to “terrorists” and the rector at the root of the demonstrations has refused to give in to demands to step down.