World Bank: Pandemic led to innovations in remote learning in Saudi Arabia

The COVID-19 pandemic led to innovations in the distance and digital learning space in Saudi Arabia, with a total of 6 million children – accounting for 98 percent of the Kingdom’s students – taking part in the country’s innovation journey, the World Bank said in a report published on Tuesday.

The report titled ‘Saudi Arabia’s Digital and Distance Education’ identified the country’s swift and efficient response to the pandemic in K-12 education and explored the opportunities for further improvement in education following the digital and distance learning experience.

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The pandemic led to school closures across the world and education institutions needed to adjust quickly to minimize the disruption to students’ education. While the technology was already widely available, with many companies focusing on education as a key use case for 5G and many other innovations long before the pandemic’s onset, it was not used until COVID-19 lockdowns were properly initiated.

A young Saudi Arabian boy takes part in distance learning in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. (twitter)

Throughout this time, 98 percent of students in the Kingdom logged into the “Madrasati” (which translates to “My School”) platform, a local bespoke learning platform.

The report was conducted on a nationally representative sample of almost 18,000 teachers, students, supervisors, school principals and parents, who observed virtual classroom environments as the pandemic unfolded in 2020 through to 2021.

More than 66 percent of teachers surveyed stated that they believe their students’ academic progress increased during this time, when they were learning remotely, noting a high demand for more digital learning content.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to the development of human capital in Saudi Arabia, as it did in countries across the world,” World Bank regional Director for the Gulf Corporation Council states (GCC) Issam Abousleiman said.

“The story of Saudi Arabia’s experience illustrates the importance of supporting teachers to excel in their roles by providing them with useful tools, training and guidance,” he added.

Not all students thrived

However, the report also found that not all students thrived during this time, noting that the digital learning experience was particularly difficult for the youngest learners and those without access to devices and those who had to share devices.

It also revealed that there were some concerns about students’ feelings of isolation, boredom and laziness due to a lack of social interaction with their peers, as well as eye strain and lack of physical activity.

Around 50 percent of the students surveyed for the report felt that they would have learned more if they had been in the classroom physically and most teachers, school principals and parents wanted to see a return to in-person learning in schools, with the continued use of ‘Madrasati’ and new digital resources.

In-person learning summarized for all students in the Kingdom during the 2021-2022 academic year, the World Bank report stated, adding that blended learning models are currently being studied to better understand prospects and possibilities for the sector.

“To continue improving education following the experiences during the pandemic, the report recommends further efforts to identify and support students needing additional help, ensuring all students have the devices and connectivity they need for distance and blended learning, and to target teachers’ professional development to reduce variability and ensure all students have access to high-quality teaching,” the report stated.

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