Private schools urged to introduce online lessons with flexibility
Mohammed Osman | The Peninsula
Since the spread of COVID-19 in different parts of the world and detection of more than 400 cases in Qatar, the government has taken a series of precautionary measures to ensure safety of the people and counter the spread of the virus by preventing all forms of gathering.
Due to these measures, regular classes of schools and universities have been suspended, but alternative measures have enabled students continue their education through virtual lessons by posting recorded materials on YouTube, and creating communication networks between students, teachers and parents.
With the announcement made by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to implement its distance learning plan for public schools, many parents whose children are in privates schools, began to raise questions about similar plan for privates schools, while some others have been complaining for a long time about the fact that online classes adopted by some private schools require students to sit on the computer from 7am to 1pm.
According to the Ministry’s plan, public schools offer four lessons per day, and their times are specific and limited. Students and their parents can follow these classes as per their convenience.
Some parents expressed their surprise over lack of similar consistent and single uniformity for private schools instead of leaving each school run the online education programme in the manner they want.
Emphasising, at least private schools that apply the national standards should follow the system being applied at public schools taking into account that parents also have their own obligations as employees.
All these questions and many others were conveyed by The Peninsula to Omar Abdulaziz Al Nama (pictured), Assistant Undersecretary for Private Schools Affairs at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
Answering questions in an interview conducted from distance in line with the measures being adopted to counter the spread of coronavirus, Omar Al Nama said there are 322 private schools and kindergartens which apply 24 curricula representing groups of different educational system contrary to the public schools which follow a single unified curriculum. Private schools in Qatar follow 12 different systems and 90 percent of them applied the online education many years ago.
The Assistant Undersecretary for Private Education Affairs said the Ministry of Education is keen on receiving all students in the State of Qatar for quality education and in accordance to the appropriate alternatives.
“I would like to clarify that each of the private schools has its own system and applies diversity of distance education programmes in accordance with their capabilities, curriculum used, whether it is private or community school.”
He continued saying that each private school has a different plan and system, because they apply varied curriculum amounting to 24 different curricula around the country.
Private schools also differ in their capacities and technology services and distance education systems they are applying, along the differences of their curricula, especially between community schools and international schools, which use their own platforms for distance learning.
He further added: “It is worth noting that many of the approved international curricula have unified central platforms that the student and teacher can login and benefit from useful resources.”
In regards to measures taken to implement the government decision for implementation of distance education within the framework of preventive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, Omar Al Nama said before the issuance of the decision of schools suspension, a meeting was held with private schools to see their readiness to apply distance education. “During the meeting schools which do not use distance learning were advised on the importance of preparing an alternative method to regular education such as distance learning and to activate the system and start implementing the plan.”
Later, he said, several meetings were held with the private schools which were in need of support and those who have already created special platforms and need activation to implement distance education so they can upload lessons and assignments.
Al Nama said the great thing that was observed during the meeting was that private schools were ready to cooperate, help each other and share experiences in this regard. He pointed out that some distinguished schools took the initiative to support other schools and share experience in distance education. “The schools which apply Indian curriculum considered the initiative part of social responsibility and activated an integrated and free platform for all to benefit from the educational resources available to them and provide visual lessons and assignments for all grades.”
Al Nama underlined that 90% of private schools apply distance education continuously, and through meetings and follow-up, it was found that conducting classes remotely and continuously was not considered as an obstacle for them.
The Ministry of Education is fully prepared to provide necessary support to all private schools when they face any kind of difficulties in implementing the virtual classes, Al Nama added, noting that the ministry is currently supporting a number of schools to improve their performance and in cases when they face any difficulties in introducing lessons remotely.
Asked whether all the technical requirements for private schools are ready to start distance education, especially as the conditions and capabilities of these schools differ from each other and from government schools, Al Nama said there are no obstacles for the majority of the private schools, as many of them have finished their first week since they started distance education without any problems, and according to their school calendar.
Schools which were not ready started on March 22, and as has been mentioned above majority of these have the appropriate infrastructure to implement the plan of distance education, he added.
Assistant Undersecretary for Private Education Affairs pointed out that there are two levels of private schools when it comes to applying distance education: Integrated distance education, with direct communication with the students where they enjoy actual interactive classes, integrated and effective schedule of lessons and assignments. The second is distance education by uploading lessons in videos, assignments and useful links provided by the school through the school platform.
In response to some concerns of parents regarding some private schools that started implementing the virtual classes are obliging students to spend a long time (from 7am to 1pm) for the lessons making the distance education process difficult for children, H E noted that there is a disparity in implementation of the program where some private schools, merge between direct communication and work on written activities, while some others let the student communicates with the teacher at specific times and others depend on the mechanism of uploading the recorded video lessons to enable the students and their parents to review them at the time they want and do the related activities.
Al Nama added that on the basis of the current situation and implementation of the distance education system in an integrated manner in many schools, the Ministry recommends private schools to introduce online lessons with flexibility, progression and balance without undermining required knowledge quantity required according to the approved educational system. “This is to ensure that no knowledge gap occurs in the event that the student moves to higher classes. We also stress the importance of cooperation with parents in accordance with the social and cultural situation.”
“In all case we urge the parents to continuously communicate with the school to convey their observations and the difficulties facing their children to find appropriate solutions” he added.
Asked about the role of the family with a number of children and whether it needs a device for each child, Al Nama stressed that majority of private schools provide platforms, and some of them do not depend on a specific time for reviewing lessons.
On the contrary, he said, some students and their parents enjoy distance education because it enable them to access diversity of its programs that gives students a chance to build a kind of self-reliance and an independent personality. “Many private schools adopt e-learning as an essential part of their educational system and accordingly for most of these schools the move was simple and straightforward.”
About difficulties being faced by the authorities in this regard, and process of monitoring the implementation and facilities offered by the Ministry to these schools and parents, the Assistant Undersecretary noted that there are daily communications with schools and so far there were no difficulties facing the program. “The specialists in the private schools affairs department are working hard to ensure the proper educational process and they make sure that all procedures are in place and help rectifying mistakes and convey the notes of parents and find appropriate solutions.”
Answering the question why is the system adopted by the Ministry for public schools not applied in private schools (in terms of the lessons duration and the number of daily classes), as well why the ministry did no revoke the direct online system and instead provide students with lessons recorded in videos and give them chance to study them and do their home work after 24 hours, the official said that the distribution of lessons is linked to specific and restricted school hours and according to the curricula being used. Furthermore he added that as for assignments, specialists have been directed to follow-up and advice schools to consider the current situation and its difficulties and work accordingly for the best interest of both students and parents. Assistant Undersecretary for Private Education pointed out that the complete approach to distance education requires joint cooperation between the students, parents and the schools, along continuous monitoring and evaluation of the systems and the correction of errors. He concluded urging schools and parents to work closely and keep in touch continuously to overcome all difficulties. “I also call on private schools to be flexible and gradual in implementation of the program to ensure that students and teachers are familiar with the systems in case there are new features that have been activated.”