Since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit the planet in late 2019, there has been a shift to online schooling and training all over the world. Some countries resisted the online method and still continued to have students attend schools under these scary conditions. Soon, however, these countries also recognized the need to adopt distance learning.
Saudi Arabia was one of the earliest countries to protect its students and teaching staff, moving everything online within short notice, and has continued to do so until now. After about 10 months of online schooling, let us review what we have learned from this experience.
First of all, there seem to be fewer problems in terms of physical space and overcrowding in schools. The budget for electricity and building maintenance have been heavily cut, thus saving the ministry and government in expenditures. Less traffic on the road has meant fewer accidents for teachers, especially those who must commute to rural areas in order to teach.
Since there is no physical attendance at schools, there is almost no bullying or fighting between classmates. Families now have fewer expenses, as they do not have to purchase school uniforms, tools, backpacks, or even prepare lunchboxes or snacks for school.
We cannot deny that the spread of the seasonal flu has gone down with the practice of social distancing. Productivity for companies has likely increased, as parents no longer have to leave work and pick up their children from school.
Finally, teachers have had to think outside of the box in order to deliver their lessons in a stimulating and engaging way to students. One could debate the effectiveness of online lessons and the method of delivery, but we cannot deny that the switch to distance learning happened overnight, and it took teachers some time to become comfortable in using the different platforms available to them as well as developing their own way of delivering lessons with no prior training.
I predict that blended learning (a mix of online and in-school lessons) will become more popular with the start of the new academic year, once a lot of people have taken the vaccine for COVID-19.
Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj
No one expected online schooling to continue this long, but I am sure that this experience will be such a positive one that we will not make a full return to full-time physical attendance. I predict that blended learning (a mix of online and in-school lessons) will become more popular with the start of the new academic year, once a lot of people have taken the vaccine for COVID-19. Students will need to attend a physical school only on certain days, thus allowing the building to host more than one school during the week. I also believe that we do not necessarily need to group students in a grade according to their age. If some students are high achievers, then why can they not progress to the next grade and graduate high school earlier? Since this will be done online, I do not see strong potential for psychological problems or tensions between the different age groups in an online class.
Having said that, I am fully aware of the wellbeing of students and their social lives at school. I believe that school will no longer be a place to make physical friends. Like it or not, school will be a place for virtual friends, similar to online video games. Some might think I am going overboard with my predictions, but that is how I see the future of education around the world, especially considering that we do not seem to be entirely out of the woods yet with the latest virus called Nipah coming into light, considered to be even more dangerous than COVID-19. So, the question is, will we ever need to send our kids back to face-to-face schooling?
• Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj is a best-selling Saudi author, international public speaker and entrepreneurship mentor.