Even before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic I was wondering, as a teacher and researcher, whether technology and digital platforms would replace teachers and traditional classrooms in the short to medium term, or would they just support and facilitate their mission? Further, to what extent should schools and education systems invest in technology? These two questions were answered through my recent experience in the distance learning arena.
When the Covid-19 pandemic started to spread, the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that schools were to close but education would never stop. The Ministry of Education (MoE) rolled out a carefully planned distance learning system for all students in the UAE (MoE, 2020). This initiative, in an affluent country that invests in education and human development, provides a case worthy of investigation because of the determination of the country’s leadership to continue K-12 education (students from 4 to 17 years old), in all circumstances. Since 2012, the UAE has been investing in smart learning projects, providing teachers as well as students with laptops and making a range of educational platforms available for them to use (Edarabia, 2020). The distance learning plan included delivering rigorous online training for teachers to ensure their ability to design and deliver quality online lessons. Electronic educational devices and internet access were also made available to private schools’ students upon request (Sebugwaawo, 2020).
The new experience of online teaching answered my previously mentioned questions about the role of technology in education. The view commonly expressed by stakeholders and especially parents that teachers play an irreplaceable role in education (Ridge, 2020), answered my first question that technology cannot, and should not, replacement them. Digital platforms can be effective sources that help with learning and exam preparations; but schools and teachers do much more than that when taking into consideration their diverse roles in students’ education in its broad sense and multidimensional purpose (Biesta, 2015). The newly implemented distance learning shows clearly that investment in technology for education purposes pays off in such unforeseeable circumstances. The UAE, as an example of a country where students have access to devices, a quality internet service and a variety of educational platforms, was able to continue education in such tough circumstances as presented by the pandemic. The ability to overcome such an unexpected educational challenge using technology answers my second question about the feasibility of investing in technology for educational purposes.
‘The UAE, as an example of a country where students have access to devices, a quality internet service and a variety of educational platforms, was able to continue education in such tough circumstances as presented by the pandemic.’
The opportunities and challenges brought about by the new distance learning experience in the UAE raise significant considerations for all stakeholders if education is to improve and continue under all circumstances. For teachers, the experience calls for them to explore the gap between what they do and what they are able to do if they draw upon the opportunities available through professional collaboration. In fact, our distance learning experience made it clear, more than ever before, that teacher professional collaboration offers unlimited learning opportunities for teachers. For parents, a key issue is how to monitor their children’s learning at home while ensuring their safety considering the limitations and constraints they might face (that is, some parents, for instance, have limited information technology knowledge and skills). Schools have an indispensable role in assisting parents’ efforts to protect, monitor and support their children’s learning. As a consequence, the type of assistance that teachers and parents would need in order to support and protect students highlights the necessity of rethinking school leadership roles under unusual circumstances (Hefnawi, 2020). On the other hand, as families face diverse socioeconomic conditions, an essential inquiry for policymakers is to consider how to ensure that alternative forms of learning do not disadvantage vulnerable groups in society.
Biesta, G. (2015). What is education for? On good education, teacher judgement, and educational professionalism. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 75–87.
Edarabia. (2020). Mohammed Bin Rashid smart learning program receives ISO certification. Retrieved from https://www.edarabia.com/115657/mohammed-bin-rashid-smart-learning-program-receives-iso-certification/
Hefnawi, A. (2020). Teacher leadership in the context of distance learning. Management in Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/0892020620959732
Ministry of Education [MoE]. (2020). Distance learning system to continue to be applied till end of current academic year. Retrieved from https://www.moe.gov.ae/En/MediaCenter/News/Pages/elearning3.aspx
Ridge, N. (2020, March 31). If there is one thing that we have learned from Covid 19 in education it is the importance of teachers [Blog post]. Al Qasimi Foundation. Retrieved from https://publications.alqasimifoundation.com/blog/if-there-is-one-thing-that-we-have-learned-from-covid-19-in-education-it-is-the-importance-of-teachers
Sebugwaawo, I. (2020, March 9). UAE to help private school students get gadgets for e-learning during spring break. Khaleej Times. Retrieved from https://www.khaleejtimes.com/news/education/uae-to-help-private-school-students-get-gadgets-for-e-learning-during-spring-break
Ayman Hefnawi is a mathematics lead teacher at the Ministry of Education, United Arab Emirates. Ayman has a Master’s degree in educational leadership and management from the University of Warwick. Currently, he is a doctorate of education candidate at the University of Bath. Ayman is a reviewer of some educational journals and is a member of several academic associations.
Ayman Hefnawi, Ministry of Education, United Arab Emirates
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