Ahliah School Principal, Rida Ayache, spoke in a virtual panel discussion entitled: “reopening schools in Lebanon amid the coronavirus pandemic: what are the health and education challenges?” at the Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut on November 24.
The panellists included: General Director of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Fadi Yarak, Director of Ras Beirut Public Secondary School, Lena Al-Naqash, associate professor and specialist in pediatrics at AUB, Dr. Rana Sharara, and retired lecturer and researcher at the Lebanese University and information and communication technology consultant at the Center for Educational Research and Development (CRDP), Hisham Al-Khoury. The session was moderated by journalist and adviser on administrative and cultural affairs, George Zoghbi.
During the discussion, Mrs. Rida Ayache acknowledged the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s efforts in supporting private schools with their individual decisions in regard to reopening schools based on their preparedness for distant learning. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in February, Ahliah School autonomously initiated the use of online platforms in learning in October 2019, as the events of disruption of school days took place due to the uprising of social protests. This maintained continuous learning for students. Teachers received ample professional development opportunities, in groups and individually, based on their level of technological literacy to empower them in delivering quality education during the virtual learning modality. Ahliah used synchronous and asynchronous learning to drive students to be active and responsible learners as well as to face the challenge of internet connectivity. Continuous communication with students and parents built the trust between Ahliah community members through addressing challenges and considering feedback.
Fadi Yarak explained the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s decision to close educational institutions in February, the sensitivity of achieving a healthy balance and maintaining education in private and public schools. He mentioned the ministry’s awareness and prevention campaigns to address Covid-19 in schools and the educational sector, obstacles faced, the ministry’s action plan, as well as recommendations and alternatives.
From a medical perspective, Dr. Rana Sharara discussed the benefits of closing schools in February, when the first case of coronavirus was registered in Lebanon, and how the situation declined soon after the airport and schools opened, as the number of coronavirus infections increased. She also mentioned the negative effects of virtual learning on children, including weight gain, social isolation, psychological problems and computer addiction.
Dr. Hisham Al-Khoury mentioned the main difficulties faced by the CRDP, such as poor infrastructure, lack of organization, difficulty with employment, errors in the mechanism of disbursement of funds, and the lack of a digital library that facilitates teachers with their tasks. Consequently, Al-Khoury presented a series of initiatives by the CRDP, including the “e-book” initiative, equipping three training modules for teachers on the use of the Microsoft Teams platform and the CRDP database.
Lena Al-Naqash addressed the current situation of Public Schools, citing problems related to the poor internet and the lack of adequate equipment for teachers. She shed light on the importance of integrated education, and on the importance of conveying the necessary information to students in this emerging health situation.
To read the Arabic version of the article, click here.