Educational experts and educators have confirmed that Qatar’s education sector responded rapidly and effectively to the novel coronavirus outbreak crisis, taking advantage of the robust technological infrastructure and qualified educational professionals at schools and higher education institutions. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) has implemented a remote learning system since March 22 in more than 334 government and private schools, as well as higher education institutions, including Qatar Foundation (QF).
This rapid response to the pandemic in the education sector is based on several factors, including the provision of the technological infrastructure that Qatar has introduced over the past years. Qatar was ranked first at the Arab world level and 26th globally in the Technological Strength Indicator issued by the Global Finance magazine, which identifies the most advanced countries in the telecommunications and technology sector - 67 countries around the world, registering 3.21 points. Surpassing 41 major countries around the world confirms the success of the State of Qatar in its technological development and promotion of the information technology and communication (ICT) sector.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented millions of children from going to school in many countries across the world, all public and private schools in Qatar began to implement remote learning, in line with the MOEHE’s decision due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and students from grades 1-12 are using the Microsoft Teams platform. Such applications provide interaction and communication with educators for both students and their parents through chatting. The Ministry, in collaboration with Qatar Media Corporation (QMC), also launched two TV stations affiliated with Qatar TV, "Education 1" and "Education 2" channels, as part of QMC’s efforts to provide remote learning platforms and channels.
From the beginning of the pandemic, the MOEHE has been keen to provide e-learning to all public schools and has since 2011 supported student learning to achieve learning benefits and fun, and therefore remote learning came as a natural product of activating e-learning throughout the previous years until now.
The Ministry prepared a set of guidelines for the remote education mechanism for students, parents and teachers in the form of videos and leaflets, and began producing virtual lessons from mid-March at the production centers. The remote learning guide, daily schedules and weekly plans were sent to schools to work accordingly. E-lessons have been broadcast via YouTube’s remote learning channel and on the two TV broadcasting channels as of March 22, and remote learning started for schools through private platforms on the same day.
Microsoft Teams Platform
The MOEHE has also applied a set of measures that would ensure remote learning is achieved for students in a smooth and easy manner, in addition to getting education departments and assessment sectors engaged in their respective fields. Procedures applied included identifying the required platforms for remote learning; the application of the Microsoft Teams system for grades 1 to 12; and ensuring it was ready for schools.
The MOEHE has released 336 educational videos from the first week of public school students returning to remote studies, which came within the precautionary decisions that the Ministry took in collaboration with the state, to preserve the safety of society from the spread of COVID-19, and facilitate all procedures to complete the educational process. Work is currently underway to produce the lessons of the second week.
According to a report by the MOEHE on the “remote learning” system issued in April 2019, the total number of video lessons that were produced reached about 23,533, including 19,908 video lessons in special education and hybrid learning, 2,456 in public schools, and 1,169 in specialized schools. Moreover, 19 educational YouTube channels have been launched for the educational stages from kindergarten to grade 12 and adult education, with total views of 8,410,862.
On the other hand, 90% of the private schools in Qatar mainly apply remote learning using different systems, and there is no obstacle to this type of education. Many of them shifted to the remote learning system as soon as the decision to suspend studies in public and private schools and universities was put in place for all students in Qatar.
With the start of the new academic year 2020-2021, the MOEHE announced the application of a blended learning system at all educational levels for public and private schools, kindergartens, and higher education institutions. E-learning has been integrated with classroom learning in a single framework.
Under the blended learning system, students are required to be present in the school building from one to three times a week, while maintaining a 30% attendance rate per day, with the aim of attending classes in some basic subjects and doing practical experiments in laboratories, along with taking tests.
The "remote learning" system will be implemented on the days when students do not come to the school building according to the schedule planned by the Ministry. The blended education system includes students conducting mid-term and end-of-semester exams in the school building through schedules organized by schools, ensuring social distancing among students.
“Digital transformation” is a successful partnership between the two sectors to facilitate e-learning
Dr. Ben Brik: Promoting equality in education and facilitating access to technology among learners
Dr. Anis Ben Brik, Associate Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU’s) College of Public Policy, said that the State of Qatar has made sustained efforts to ensure the continuity of the learning process through alternative means since the announcement of the suspension of public and private schools and universities due to the pandemic outbreak. Qatar has put in place many plans and effective alternatives for different levels and classes. In this context, “Qlearning”, a remote learning portal, was launched to facilitate and support all services. The MOEHE launched the electronic educational platform “Mazyad” that allows students to easily and quickly access learning resources such as textbooks, educational videos and more varied and continually updated content. The transition to the Microsoft Teams platform has also contributed to accommodating the entry of up to 300,000 users at one time.
Dr. Ben Brik added in a statement to Lusail newspaper that Qatar has launched TV channels dedicated to providing courses on YouTube, such as the "Remote Learning in Qatar" channel, for kindergarten to grade 12, in addition to other tools that help facilitate the students' transition from physical learning in the classroom to online learning.
In the context of strengthening the partnership between the public and private sectors to facilitate e-learning, the successful cooperation between Ooredoo and the MOEHE through a “Digital Transformation Partnership” is noted.
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the educational process which is achieved by strengthening community partnerships among parents, tutors and all sectors, enhancing the use of digital technologies and skills for children, parents and the educational framework, and achieving justice, equity and equality in bridging the digital gap, to ensure that every child receives the support they need. This won’t be easy. It will require a great deal of adaptation on the part of all actors in the process, and Qatar has succeeded in this challenge with distinction.
Smooth Transition to Remote Learning in Higher Education Institutions
The higher education institutions in Qatar have implemented the virtual learning and remote learning system, and the Ministry, in coordination with all universities across the country, continued to monitor the educational process through remote learning system, and manage evaluation systems and examination schedules in light of the current policies and procedures.
The Ministry also, through the Department of Higher Education Affairs, monitors the remote learning experiences of students on scholarships or who are studying at their own expenses, daily with the educational attaches outside the country, making sure their conditions are fine, and helping those who want to return, after coordination with their universities to complete their studies remotely until studies resume with regularity in their universities.
At Qatar University (QU), the remote learning system has made great progress during this period. According to statistics published by the university from May 3-7 on the use of the blackboard system and remote learning platforms, the number of blackboard platforms has reached about 555 sessions and the number of sessions that began is about 1,434, while the number of individuals attending all sessions was about 7,248, with conversations in groups at about 2,887, number of sessions started through Microsoft Teams 1,534, and sessions that began on the Webex platform at about 1,450, while the calls reached about 3,221.
Smooth Learning Transition
In a previous statement to Lusail newspaper, a number of foreign university deans in Education City praised the smooth transition to remote learning at QF, thanks to the use of the best technology, stressing that education in Qatar offers a great deal of flexibility and a wider scope for innovation and access to available research and ideas.
Dr. Craig LaMay, Acting Dean and Professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, said: “I have taken swift action to ensure a smooth transition to e-learning and remote education. All our curricula have been reviewed and updated to ensure students' ability to carry out academic assignments and pursue their studies from wherever they are, in addition to reformulating academic assignments.
Qatar’s possession of all remote learning implementation pillars, including electronic platforms, digital resources, trained human cadres, and students with technology skills, contributed to promoting the smooth transition towards remote learning.”
Concerning the gradual return to universities, the MOEHE issued a circular to the directors and presidents of universities regarding student attendance, whereby it was decided that attendance should be gradual in universities. Working hours during the first three months (from September to the end of November) take into account an attendance rate of 30%; with the continuity of blended learning. Students' attendance for exams is included in their assessment as much as possible and as needed, with all precautionary measures taken regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, with the need to achieve a student spacing of one and a half meters - as a minimum - from each side, and provide comprehensive awareness for them and for employees inside the university in coordination with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).
Dr. Alawi: The educational process has proven in its current state that education is one of our first priorities
On the role of universities during the previous period of COVID-19, Dr. Ahmed Alawi, Associate Professor at HBKU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), says that the college urged all professors and staff to take the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the college’s educational facilities, according to the instructions issued by government institutions.
With regard to health and safety, the college management has worked to direct staff and professors regarding the requirements and precautionary measures that must be followed in all educational facilities of the college, in order to work within the framework of a safe, healthy and learning stimulating environment, including attending educational facilities only when necessary, and making sure to wear face masks, and maintaining safe distances among individuals. In addition to mandating a virus test when necessary. The college issued a program that is being updated from time to time on the return of staff to their offices, in accordance with approved health precautionary measures.
Since announcing the recommencement of classes, CHSS has worked to develop effective plans and alternatives to ensure that all returning students continue their education and that new students do not fail to be admitted to the programs in which they are enrolled. In addition, a detailed conceptualization of all academic subjects has been developed and how to teach them through the use of remote learning method, for which the college management has facilitated all arrangements to enable lecturers to develop their skills, in order to perform their educational tasks in the best conditions. Despite the emphasis on the importance of staff safety, the educational process has proven in its current state that education is one of HBKU’s first priorities, and that the College is committed to QF’s vision to continue the learning journey, regardless of the ongoing conditions.