COVID-19 has cast an unpredictable shadow on the field of education such that educationists as well as educational institutions in Oman are yet unsure about the course that events will take as well as about the fate of students in various levels of education during the year ahead.
According to Dr Ahmed al Bulushi, dean, College of Engineering, National University of Science and Technology, normacy in schools and colleges may not return until September. And thereafter, too, a host practices and safeguards will have to be put in place to secure students and promote a health environment in educational institutions.
“We need the entire current semester and summer to continue with distributed learning in order to be on the safe side. Schools and colleges are public places with high density of people and opening colleges soon will endanger society and spoil all the efforts made, so far, in managing social distancing,: he said, adding, “Thanks to our flexibility and responsiveness, we are fully operating under distributed learning mechanisms which was not possible with such speed under normal circumstances.”
About how the pandemic would change the way education is conducted in future, Dr Bulushi said, “We have allready made changes in our academic regulations so to suit online teaching and distance learning. Surely, this is not for short but long term use. We are now thinking to deliver University core courses in distance and blended teaching and learning mode. We have a special category of part time students who want this distance learning support to be available even after we go back to traditional teaching,” he said, adding, “So, in this way, a lot of changes are going to talk place as the result of COVID19.”
He also pointed out the university has already undertaken different measures with regards to hygiene and extra caution was maintained before completely closing down. Surely, such practices will continue when it reopens in September. The campus will have to be extra clean and hygienic, and students and staff must feel safe in a working environment that is encouraging and comfortable, he added.
Prof Abdullah al Ghafri of Nizwa University was of the opinion that schools/colleges will not come back to normal until spring 2021 as the virus is still spreading and no vaccine has arrived for it until now. It is also not scientifically clear how the virus affected the victims and how long it will stay until it is dismissed, he pointed out.
With regard to the potential of the pandemic to change the way education is conducted in future, Prof Ghafri says, “Yes indeed! It has forced schools and universities to shift to online teaching. Necessity made the invention! Now, remote online teaching has proved to be important. This crisis has forced the educational institutes to push faculty and staff to learn and teach online.”
He further said, “It also gave a real test for all applications and learning network platforms. As of now, we are forced only to teach online and are teaching masses of students, in fact, all of the students together! This great test will lead definitely to know the strength and weakness of teaching online, thus leading to improving it. It also speeds up the institutions’, faculty’s and students’ abilities to involve themselves in remote online learning methods.”
The programmes or applications used are like a ‘vaccine’ for the teaching-learning process. In future, if another disaster happens, like a disease outbreak, floods or earthquakes which prevent students from attending lectures in school/college, the solution is already there – e-learning!
Dr Oualid Ali, futurist global speaker and an expert on future trends and sustainable smart cities, was also of the opinion that schools/college will resume in september in a very optimistic scenario. “It will take few more weeks to find a cure for this coronavirus. After the pandemic recedes, we still need to practice social distancing to avoid the risk of infection,” he said.
Dr Ali, who is founder of an artificial general intelligence company in Oman, further said, “COVID-19, as a black swan event, will change all the aspects of our life in a post-COVID time. The education sector will be heavily affected in this period and e-education and online learning will be common practice in the future. The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in many sectors, especially education.