Future of education: The impact of pandemic lessons on Saudi Arabia’s education system

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a number of negative consequences for communities and economy around the world. However, some of the responses countries have made to the challenges it has posed have yielded undeniable benefits that will help shape the future.

For example, in Saudi Arabia, as in other countries, the exceptional acceleration of the digitalization process inside the education system has resulted in significant advances in remote learning, as well as revolutionary improvements in traditional schooling.A hybrid model of learning, according to the Saudi Ministry of Education, is the way of the future.

It has taken extraordinary steps to create and encourage the use of electronic-learning systems since the outbreak began. iEN, the national education portal, was launched quickly in the early days of the crisis, with over 6 million users. In the coming academic year, the government also plans to replace traditional books with iPads in Saudi schools.

“With the help of the various tools technology can provide, the educational experience will be more feasible and will become stronger ” said Mohammad Al-Ghazal, the expert in digital transformation.

However, as the world moves toward more use of technology in schools, challenges and opportunities arise. According to a recent survey conducted by software company Citrix, 81 percent of Saudi Arabian educators believe hybrid learning will improve students’ experiences in the coming academic year, and they expect investment in up-skilling and communication tools.

The survey’s findings were released in June, and it aimed to identify the challenges and opportunities that have arisen as a result of major changes in education over the previous 18 months, as well as the perspectives of people at all levels of the sector, including university executives, information technology managers, teachers, and administrators.Remote learning has accounted for over 80% of all teaching delivered by schools and institutions in the Kingdom since the outbreak began.

Flexible/remote learning was deemed important for their school or university by almost 70% of those polled.The participants expressed concern about remote learning’s technological obstacles, such as difficulties connecting with video-conferencing platforms (51%), a lack of devices connected to the education site (33%), and security concerns (33%). (31 percent).

Another big source of worry was communication issues, with more than half of those polled stating that communication between professors and students utilizing collaborative tools needs to be addressed. Other issues include accessibility and the lack of a single platform that houses all of the materials.

Despite their apparent acceptance of the hybrid model’s importance, 90% of participants feel that in-person learning will be most vital to their schools and institutions post-pandemic, while 38% say that the “smart campus” will be a key notion.

According to experts, the Kingdom’s experience during the pandemic set the foundation for a national reform.

Mohammad Al-Ghazal told Arab news “Although Saudi Arabia already had been steadily accelerating development of its connectivity infrastructure in recent years, in light of Vision 2030 goals, significant momentum was achieved during 2020.”

He believes that the communication sector’s expertise gained during the pandemic will serve as a solid foundation for the new age. For instance, he said, collaboration between various authorities has improved, and new procedures have been devised to put in place fundamental pillars for a thorough digital transformation that will place the Kingdom among the world’s digital pioneers.The health crisis pushed the virtual experience on students and teachers, he added, and it has revealed many concerns and challenges connected to technical literacy, security, and communication. However, he noted, it would eventually lead to adjustments that will help the country’s education sector.

Saudi Arabia has made tremendous recent progress in creating a comprehensive digital infrastructure, according to Al-Ghazal.Last year, the Kingdom was placed fifth on the Speedtest Global Index of countries having the fastest mobile internet networks, up five places from the year before and 11 places since 2018.

According to the Global Cybersecurity Index 2020, it is ranked second in the world in terms of cybersecurity commitment.In addition, the International Institute for Administrative Development’s annual global competitiveness study ranked the country eighth in terms of investment for technical development and ninth in terms of technology development and application.

According to Al-Ghazal, Saudi Arabia’s excellent digital infrastructure has aided the country in coping with the pandemic’s disruptions to the public and private sectors.

Some argue that an increased reliance on digital tools in traditional education is generating disadvantages or harm, but he says these arguments are “useless and out of context. “The young digital ‘netizens,’ who deserve a well-developed educational system that adapts to their lifestyle and helps prepare them for the increasing demands of the industry, will be harmed by resistance to new technology. According to Al-Ghazal. Although the digital transformation of education is still in its early stages, he feels the Kingdom is well positioned because all of the key ingredients are in place.

“However, the true challenge is cultural,” he said, adding that the development of a virtual culture in schools and universities will require imaginative and creative ideas, open leadership and a spirit of innovation.

Such a radical cultural change requires long-term planning, he said. Health and well-being, concentration, effective communication between educators and students, the sustainability of solutions and improvements, and the growth and expansion of technical expertise among staff are all long-term obstacles facing the implementation of hybrid learning.

Citrix polled nearly 45 percent of people who said helping educators enhance their abilities to use technology may improve the classroom experience, and 28 percent said technical skills and training are the largest post-pandemic difficulties confronting schools and colleges. “We need a lot of re-skilling of educators and staff”… “This has to change on a cultural level and at a managerial level; the managerial approach toward education has to change”, said Al-Ghazal.

Attitudes and approaches to teacher education must change right away.He stated, There is an urgent need for a thorough cultural shift. Because the market is evolving, the educational system and culture must adapt as well. To adjust to the new normal, students must develop soft skills, such as how to locate information rather than memorise it, which will make them more desirable to employers in the future.

Al-Ghazal said that the technology used to aid learning should not be seen merely as a tool but as an academic opportunity. Therefore, concepts such as instructional design, multimedia production and data analytics are vital for the future of education, he added.

“With the help of the various tools technology can provide, the educational experience will be more feasible, will become stronger, different, and the student will be acquiring soft skills from a young age,” Students will have an unprecedented opportunity to gain wider exposure to experiences that can raise awareness, develop emotional intelligence, enhance their senses, and improve their observational and critical-thinking skills, thanks to the use of virtual reality and augmented reality, according to Al-Ghazal.

Having a wide selection of options for school trips is an example of this. Geography students can see a place in Riyadh at any moment using virtual and augmented-reality technologies from their classrooms in Dammam, he added as an example.

As a result, increasing and better use of technology will not only make education more helpful, engaging, and complex, but it will also save money and provide a safer environment for young children.

“It is cost-saving while not depriving students of enriching experiences that were unobtainable in the traditional educational system. It might sound expensive but it actually will save a lot of costs and provide a better-quality education.”

“This is only the beginning, but the future is bright,” he said, adding that scholars and educators of all disciplines must be successfully inspired, properly guided, and well equipped for the growth of education. There is no going back; we must adapt to the new normal and contribute to its success.

Source: Arab News

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