How Arab Countries Used Pandemic Challenges to Improve Education

Virtual ‘Learning to Build Back Better Futures for Education’ session on Zoom on February 25, 2022. SANDRA EMAM.

The COVID-19 outbreak has been globally a “calamity on education,” but some countries in the Middle East and North Africa overcame the challenges created by the pandemic to develop new programs, allowing them to improve the level of education in the region.

“The question that most people have been pursuing is how did the pandemic limit educational opportunities, and the answer is undeniable, the impact has been a calamity on education,” said Fernando Reimers, International Education Policy Masters Program Professor at Harvard University, who participated last week in a webinar organized by the International Bureau of Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO-IBE).

Schools around the world were forced to shut down for long periods since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 and they had to organize online programs for students. 

In Egypt, “the government collaborated with 150 private-public partnerships” to launch a site called Zaker (study in Arabic) following the Egyptian curriculum standards, said Ebtehal Elghamrawy, Teaching Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Elghamrawy said that Egypt has the largest educational system in the Middle East and North Africa region though it has one of the weakest in terms of students’ performance in international assessments. “The platform is attempting to address learning for all 100 million citizens with an ambitious goal of learning, thinking, and innovating. It’s one of MENA’s largest digital learning platforms with 3.5 million registered users and over 250 million views, as the success of Zaker doubled during the pandemic,” she said.

Elghamrawy showcasing the results of Zaker and the usage it gained during the COVID-19 pandemic. February 25, 2022. SANDRA EMAM.

In Saudi Arabia, an e-learning platform, “Madrasati (My School), was created to support continuity of education for students between grades 1 and 12 in public schools and some private schools,” according to Yasser Alshehri, Deputy Dean for Planning and Development at Yanbu University College. The government partnered with the Takaful Foundation to provide computers, tablets or laptops to more than 20,000 students to allow them to study online.

“The pandemic has served as a propelling factor for positive change in the educational system in Saudi Arabia,” Alshehri said. “The upcoming year will be a year of change, with a revised program of study, the first in 28 years.”

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