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Education Ambitions Must be in Line with Reality

Education Ambitions Must be in Line with Reality

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 11

In a recent statement, UNICEF reported that 105 countries opened their education institutions last week, sending millions of students back to school. This list, according to the report, includes countries like Britain, Denmark, China and Taiwan. Within the Arab world, most countries are still offering only distance learning, in line with the last semester of the previous school year. We now know that remote learning affects the emotional growth of students and might negatively affect their medical health and academic performance. Furthermore, in many situations, parents cannot afford to simply stay at home and oversee their children while they take virtual classes. Still, the Saudi Ministry of Education chose to continue pursuing the remote learning model. Unfortunately, the Madrasati platform used to deliver online classes crashed during the first week of school, leaving students unable to access their accounts. It is true that the ministry is working on developing its own platform, known as Gate of the Future, but this ambitious project will take time. To make matters worse, it assumes that students have the appropriate technical and digital infrastructure at home, which often isn’t the case. In the United States, for example, more than 3 million students don’t have an internet connection at home. In some countries, only 18% of students have the equipment necessary to study remotely. Perhaps a better model is the one implemented in the United Arab Emirates, which gave its students the option to choose between in-person education and remote learning. In doing so, it moved responsibility away from the educational institutions and toward the families of the students, giving the latter the freedom to choose whatever solution is more compatible with their personal beliefs and financial capabilities. In the pre-coronavirus world, healthcare and education were two of the kingdom’s largest budget items. These budgets will only grow in light of the pandemic. We must make sure, therefore, that our resources continue to be spent responsibly, such that our students continue to gain an education while we protect our public health. – Badr bin Saud (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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