How Covid-19 is Impacting the Education Sector in the UAE?
On 8 March 2020, the Ministry of Education (MoE) in the UAE announced an early spring holiday break, and the students were ordered to remain at home for a minimum of one month as part of preventative measures to stop the deadly novel coronavirus (Covid-19) from spreading in the UAE.
In addition, a two weeks’ online learning programme was announced for students of all educational facilities during the announced holiday break.
On 22 March 2020, over 1.2 million students associated with different schools and universities across the UAE, joined online classrooms, according to Education Market Report published by Cavendish Maxwell.
With the government of the UAE taking strict preventative measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, an announcement was made on 30 March 2020 that duration of the e-learning programme will be extended until the end of the ongoing academic session/ year.
Local associations and authorities also undertook several actions to pan out the e-learning initiative. The ministry of education launched its e-learning programme named ‘Learning from Afar’ for students until the restrictions of lock down on educational facilities are uplifted. In order to make sure that teachers were prepared for this transition, the education ministry together with the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU), offered a free online course which would see more than 42,000 teachers and other academic supporting staff being trained with regards to providing education online in virtual classrooms, as per the report published by Cavendish Maxwell.
On the other hand, education regulator of Dubai, Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), launched a new online educational platform #InThisTogetherDubai. Via this platform, private organizations extended help by offering websites, apps, and other resources to students, parents, and teachers for free. Some private educational institutions are also implementing their own e-learning programmes and systems.
Challenges for Students and Educational Institutions with respect to Online Learning Programmes
As online learning through virtual classrooms is set to continue for the foreseeable future, educational institutions will be required to address several challenges like transitioning to the e-learning module, and improving skills of teachers and other supporting staff.
Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group, Maya El Hachem, said that immediate priority of schools should be to provide quality education to their students through training and equipping teachers and other supporting staff with regards to using latest digital tools, improvising the ways in which educational content is delivered, and regularly interacting with the parents. Schools together with educators should revise their time schedules to cater the needs of students and their parents.
She further added that schools must ensure financial sustainability and resilience through cost-cutting and identifying favorable business opportunities. Costs saved through cost reduction methods should then partially be invested in immediate high priority areas such as staff development, latest technology, and well-being schemes.
The extension of the online learning programme caused parents to seek help from schools in the form of reduction in school fee. Since then, many schools all across the UAE have responded to the current situation by waiving of tuition fee.
Further relief was given to students when KHDA announced that bus fee for 3rd Term of the ongoing academic year (1st Term for Pakistani and Indian schools) must be refunded to students.
However, as the novel coronavirus continues to impact industries all across the world, the education sector is expected to continue to be hit hard by this virus. Hence, a joint effort from state and private stakeholders is required all across the UAE to ensure that a smooth transition takes place from traditional to digital learning platform to counter the impact of Covid-19 on the education sector.
El Hachem also said that financial sustainability of private schools is key given strong reliance on private education system in the region.
As a result, governments are taking preventative measures to avoid closures of schools amid financial distress caused by Covid-19. In Dubai, KHDA has guaranteed income for schools in the form of tuition fees by making sure that all those students that drop out of the 3rd semester of the current academic year are advanced to the next class/ level at the start of the next year. The purpose of this measure is to protect the salaries of teachers and other supporting staff until the end of the ongoing academic year.
When the Situation is expected to be Normal Again?
In the UAE, schools are expected to be reopened in September 2020. However, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the situation involving Covid-19.
According to Al Hachem, most schools in the UAE are expected to resume operations at the start of the next academic session/ year in September 2020. However, there is still very much uncertainty as to how and when we will be able to come out of this ongoing crisis. The return to normalcy may vary for each city or country.