By Mira Majzoub
Role of the Ministry of Education:
Before declaring the exemption from official exams for the school year 2019/2020, the Ministry of Education of Lebanon released an announcement regarding the continuation of the school year. Based on circular 15 released on the 17th of March, 2020 – which relates to distance learning under good conditions due to the exceptional state Lebanon has been living in because of the Coronavirus – there are three pathways the MOE will go through to ensure online education is successful. First, to reach as many students as possible, especially those with no access to the internet. Classes will be broadcasted on TeleLiban – the national public television network – for certain grade levels. The MOE also invited teachers that would like to volunteer to make this pathway achievable. The second, the use of online platforms. Microsoft provided free services of Microsoft teams to all Lebanese teachers and students from the private and public sectors. The ministry recommended using this platform and announced the delivery of workshops on how to navigate it. Third, the traditional form of education. Schools continue sending lessons and exercises on paper to students.
On top of the announcement, the MOE has also devised a new cut in the curriculum for the school year to end on time. This cut, as much as it was unwanted by many educational institutions, makes it possible for students to finish the school year. One coordinator mentions how she had to add some lessons and objectives for certain grade levels, otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible for these students to excel in upcoming levels. The ministry additionally managed to give workshops to teachers on how to use Microsoft teams. The workshops were given to a group of 50 to 60 teachers from several schools. On top of that, the ministry managed to give an amount of 400,000 L.L. to students at public schools over the country to financially help them with distance learning. This distribution covered some public schools and disregarded the majority of other students. Teachers also mentioned that this amount was not even enough to cover anything related to online learning.
Despite what the Ministry of Education did to help this transition, it failed to meet the needs of the teachers and students. There is a call for financial help and ensuring resources to continue with online learning. “We believe school closures will take longer than expected, and with the continuation of the economic crisis happening, online learning will not be feasible for most families.” a teacher says. Although some public schools managed to distribute laptops to their teachers, other schools were not able to provide any help. Students are also in huge need of electronic devices. “We hope the ministry will devise an economic plan on how to distribute resources and help. There is a large portion of students that still did not attend any class yet.” a public school teacher noticed. Educators also believe there should be a free internet plan for at least public school students that can’t afford it. Teachers at public schools are also concerned about the material and how it is being given. The Center for Educational Research and Development did not provide any methods and presentations on how to deliver the material. Instructors had to prepare their classes and lessons from scratch.
What about students?
Throughout this shift in education, teachers have traced a shift in student behavior concerning online learning. While at the start it was difficult to deliver a complete lesson on WhatsApp, this academic year shows higher rates of interest and attendance for students. Although some students barely showed up to their online classes due to their financial inability to attend with a suitable electronic device, the attendance rate is constant. “If a student cares they will show up. It all goes back if they want to learn… Students at public high schools are promised scholarships at reputable universities if they get good grades.” a coordinator mentioned. To an extent, most teachers noticed how students are motivated. With online learning, they can contact teachers even after school hours to inquire about lessons and homework. Teachers try to keep classes as interesting as possible, but the student attention span on a screen cannot bear more than a few hours per day as the instructor discussed. “We might not have the strongest generation in the upcoming years, but we are trying our best to give them all that they need with the curriculum downsized.” a private school teacher adds.
KG teachers are concerned about students’ social development within these two years. “A kid has to fall and cry in the playground, pick a fight with a friend, play with classmates… these are natural things for a kid to go through” a public school teacher voiced. Students’ basic motor skills are ignored once confined to a screen for a couple of hours a day. Educators have stated how important it is for a student to interact with classmates daily. Their social lives are affected by such communication.
Some teachers believe students will have missed out on basic educational knowledge and will also face social issues once they get back to school. They also think everything can be fixed. Instructors concur that learners will have to get back to school sooner or later, and the natural flow of such a routine will bring back what they missed. “We went through the 1976 war. We did not go to school for a whole year and had to do the last two years in one. Our high school education was not at its best, and here we are as educators, doctors, and professors. If students just work hard they will be fine” a teacher stated her experience with a similar situation. Some educators seem to assume students will be okay once this matter comes to their future.
Teachers are overworked:
Although delivering a class at the comfort of one’s home sounds very acceptable, teachers are getting overworked and stressed. With no lessons prepared to be delivered online, teachers and coordinators had to prepare their classes from scratch to be given online and in booklets. Moreover, they should be available for students even after classes to help them with any questions they may need. “They will need our help, but we are very stressed. The workload is doubled. Even sending a voice note about the lesson because of no electricity and internet issue is a lot of work.” a private school teacher said. Teachers prefer the traditional method of teaching rather than the online one. “Sometimes I have to teach while my kids are learning online at home. They do need parental guidance, and it can be tiring and stressful to manage both.” another teacher voiced. Yet, other educators have mentioned the importance of keeping an online session or two at home once students can attend school grounds again. “An online session to solve extra exercises would be beneficial for students. Technology is playing a bigger part in education and we need to make our students familiar with it, although there is a huge deficit in providing such a method.” a teacher mentioned.