Illustration by Hala Younis
Almost the entire world’s schools have closed at the same time. Alone the sentence is bizarre. Here’s a visualization that The Economist put together to give you a better idea (in Egypt alone, approximately 23.9 million students have had their learning rhythm interrupted and are currently staying at home!).
“My first thought was that I’m paying all this money for a school to give my daughter the best education, now she’s sitting at home without teachers and asking me questions”, said a father whose daughter goes to the American International School of Egypt in response to the news. “. . . but what can I say? It’s the right thing to do. They’re having their classes online and hand in their homework digitally. It’s going well”.
As of March 14th 2020, Egypt suspended both schools and universities for all students; parents suddenly found themselves with the responsibility of transforming their homes into classrooms.
International schools have been quick to respond to the crisis by moving to pre-existing platforms such as Zoom and Google Classroom. "We’ve created a new timetable and shortened the days” says May Waly, the Head of Middle School at Green Land International School. “I don’t know if the children are just that bored at home, but the level of commitment has been impressive” she added.
Elementary teachers tend to have it a little harder and parents of younger children might get a little frustrated, especially if they have more than one child they need to follow up with. Since it's more difficult for younger children to listen to somebody talk through a screen for a prolonged period of time, this leaves parents with more responsibility, as they need to make sure the work gets done. For some, this can be difficult, since they do not have teaching experience and don’t necessarily remember how to solve for X in a math question.
A solution to this could be online one-on-one sessions, so that the focus can be on the student. However for teachers that have over 20 students in their class, this isn’t feasible. Services like Orcas help by providing one-on-one sessions to children. Orcas connects parents to experienced and trained tutors that can give the children the additional attention and time they might need to fully understand concepts, while also taking the weight off the parent.
Almost 10 days into quarantine, Abeer El Sisi, co-founder of Elves and mother of three says: “Today I’m sane, but In the beginning there was a lot of panic and tears. . . fractions, geography, history, I don’t have the capacity for that. . .I think it’s just a matter of understanding what is needed. Parents, teachers and students, we’re all learning”. Their school, Maadi British International School have been quick to respond when children need assistance or were late on their submissions given the circumstances.
Working mom, Yasmine Tarek shared: “I’m trying to create some boundaries but also realizing that in this situation kids will be part of the “office hours” and we will all have to make peace with the noise they make during important calls”. The Fit By The Sea founder also finds that things are getting more clear and more routine-like each day.
Meanwhile, a mother from Imbaba whose youngest child visits a national school nearby. However, her limited knowledge of online platforms made things more challenging. “They’re sending us things on Whatsapp groups, but I don’t know what to do with it. My eldest son is more helpful with technology related things but he has military duty and isn’t around as much” she says.
While all this is happening, the educational sector is doing the best they can to avoid compromising students’ learning and academic careers.
The Ministry of Education and Technical Education has thus far released a website full of helpful study guides and materials for students all over the country to access. It even includes gamified questions to make it more engaging. The Minister of Education, Tarek Shawki also announced that all the exams for students between third year primary school and eighth grade have been substituted with research papers for each subject. For students from Kindergarten or in first second primary grades, there won’t be any exams at all. These have been replaced with teacher’s assessments based on the student’s performance of the curriculum which is available on the e-library. Those in Grade 10 and 11 are the only ones that have exams, however the way they will be taking the exam has changed: they will be using tablets and taking the examination via the internet. Luckily, the system had already integrated technology as part of their teaching methods meaning that it will not be completely new to the students.
On the other hand, a parent whose daughter is currently in her first year of university is worried about the responsibility this pins on students in terms of staying motivated.
“I think the biggest challenge in online learning is this alone-ness in front of your screen. . . I think that is very difficult, whereas if you go to a course or you go to school or university, it’s much easier to just be there, do it and then you’re done and you move on” she claimed. Human connection can be difficult to achieve if the teacher is speaking to dozens of face cameras at the same time. One-on-one sessions, such as the ones that Orcas provide for example, give students the space to have two-way conversations and engage with the topic and curriculum at hand.
May Waly agrees that finding the mind-space for online learning can be difficult arguing that kids shouldn’t be on their computers while in their pajamas; they should be fully prepared with their teeth brushed. “There’s time for school and time for fun, there shouldn’t be a merge between the both”, she claimed. However, she considers this the perfect opportunity for teaching the children independence and responsibility as long as the instructions are made clear and followed up on.
The current times are very uncertain but it’s safe to say that this is a learning opportunity for everyone from students to parents to teachers and even the administrative department.