During the COVID-19 pandemic, one sector that continues to benefit from the crisis is online education. The tough stay-at-home situation has already revamped the online education business and is likely to change the way education is going to be administered in the future.
In an interview with Muscat Daily, Dr Khalfan al Asmi, Dean of Modern College of Business and Science, said, “It is a blessing in disguise and will change the way education is going to be administered in the future. I am not saying online education was not taken seriously before but the pandemic will accelerate the introduction of online education in all learning institutions.”
He added that one big change involves the cost. “Students do not need to be physically present at a college or university. They can stay at home and learn and save costs. You will not need to recruit teachers in your country. In our experience at Modern College of Business and Science, we use teachers from different countries to deliver online lectures to our students,” Dr Asmi said.
“Also, students will not have to leave their hometowns to come to Muscat to study. In this way, mobility of both students and teachers would be greatly reduced. When teachers work from home, they have less stress and work longer hours in greater comfort than before,” he added.
The major advantage is that education will be affordable in the long run through online, he said, adding, “This is what would inspire education providers to take online classes seriously from now on and embed it deeper, side by side with their normal classes.”
Asked whether Oman is well prepared with technology and infrastructure to deal with online classes, Dr Asmi said, “Yes, Oman is well prepared for it. We are going to have 5G data communication. We have excellent internet connectivity that covers most of the country and the bandwidth is very high. The telecommunication providers are well equipped to cater for the high-speed demand. The government is also committed and keeps improving the telecommunication infrastructure every year.”
Speaking about the difference between online courses from regular ones, Dr Asmi said that the physical attendance in the classroom is the main difference from the regular classes. “However, COVID-19 is encouraging students to accept the reality of studying remotely and, in our experience, they are adapting very well to this challenge. But, online classes will never entirely replace regular classes, only complement each other,” he said.
On challenges of online education, Dr Asmi said besides physical presence in the classroom, it is the availability of good and fast internet connections, for which telecommunication providers are already improving the facilities in Oman, in view of the COVID-19 experience.
“Another challenge to consider is the fact that students will miss out the normal interaction between their colleagues, like meeting for a meal or coffee in the college’s canteen. But again, I am not saying the classroom experience should take second place. Online education is a good substitute for education institutions which want to give a good alternative to students who, for a number of reasons, may prefer to study at home,” he said.
Asked if the absence of a teacher (physically) would be a hindrance to education, Dr Asmi said, “Not at all. At Modern College of Business and Science, we have mature students who are working full time and unable to attend regular classes. They have been using our online learning management system/platform long before COVID-19. We are not alone, some education institutions in Oman are catering for working students in the same way.”
“We will see the local education system make positive changes after COVID-19 and online education will pick-up very well. I am confident that the demand will significantly grow in the coming period,” he added.