By Mira Majzoub
Schools in Lebanon have completely closed since the start of the first lockdown back in March 2020 due to the spread of Covid-19. With this closing, several questions have arisen concerning the academic year and the future of Lebanese students. As some teachers took the initiative to resume delivering their classes with the easiest affordable methods, others faced challenges in making this transition possible. The Ministry of Education took action on this unprecedented issue, but due to the ongoing economic crisis, there was great impotence for the government to provide aid.
While schools in Lebanon were adjusting to distance learning, teachers had to alter their methods of instruction. This matter differed between public to private schools. Most teachers had little to no experience in online class delivery. On top of that, not all teachers and students had enough resources for online learning. The strenuous process of transitioning to online learning has taken a huge toll on teachers’ lives. We interviewed several teachers across the country to understand the obstacles they had to go through to make online learning possible. All teachers preferred to remain anonymous.
What happened in March 2020:
At the beginning of the school closures, some teachers took the initiative to continue delivering their classes over social media platforms. As it was still undetermined whether or not 2020 official exams would be held, the burden fell on educators to deliver the whole curriculum. Teachers had to record voice notes and send documents of solved exercises to WhatsApp groups to complete their lessons. In her article “Remote Learning and the Digital Divide in Lebanon”, Tala Ramdan mentions how the process of teaching via WhatsApp takes a longer time and requires more effort. The process is costly for some teachers with no reimbursement for the extra internet coverage they require. One teacher even mentioned: “We brought 5 students from each class for example. We explained to them the lessons at the school and they had to explain the material to the rest of the class. As much as we wanted this method to work, it failed.”
Teachers also faced an issue navigating the platforms the Ministry of Education recommended to deliver online classes. At first, private and public schools provided workshops to their teachers on how to use Microsoft Teams. Yet, this method was still very different from traditional teaching methods and most teachers still faced an issue with how to navigate the platform, explain objectives, and evaluate students accurately. Although some of the educators found these workshops didactic, others had to refer to a close family member or an acquaintance for help. Subject-specific teachers created WhatsApp groups with instructors and coordinators across the country. They shared methods on how to make this process easier for themselves and the students.
The recommended software, Microsoft Teams, proved unsuitable in certain materials. Private schools had to use Google Classrooms and different platforms to ensure a better form of delivery.
Complications of online education in Lebanon
This school year, teachers are managing online teaching with a better knowledge of how to use platform-specific tools to cater to a pedagogical classroom. However, Lebanese people live in a poor infrastructure that makes it difficult for them to switch their routine online instantly.
The main problem teachers and students face is the lack of sufficient internet service. With the ongoing economic crisis, more families are falling under the poverty line. This means that not all of them can afford internet coverage for more than one device at home. Downloading a file on WhatsApp requires a significant amount of data. In most cases, parents have mentioned monthly internet data reaching its limit with just one lesson. On the other hand, even if internet access is available, the issue with its slow speed makes the process to complete a lesson in one hour impossible. Sound is very slow and takes more than just a few seconds for all of the class to hear and understand the material. Teachers explained how frustrating it gets to just answer one question at a time. With a class of 20 student capacity in private schools, lessons may require more than just one hour for students to receive the full objectives assigned. What about public schools where the capacity in just one classroom is around 50 students? One teacher even mentions how the internet speed was so slow, no one had access to the classroom for a couple of days. “I’ve heard once that a teacher has to go to a cafe every day to use their internet.” an interviewee mentioned. Other teachers have to resort to a costly 4G mobile plan, but with no remuneration available.
The second main issue was recurring electricity cuts. While some families could afford electricity back-up coverage, others simply cannot. The Internet is one thing, but if the electricity is out, there are nothing teachers or students can do. “I have a couple of students that instantly sign-out. I’d just know their electricity is out. They miss the rest of the class.” a teacher at a private school has mentioned.
The third main problem was the lack of suitable electronic devices for teachers and students. Not all households have access to more than one device to use e-learning platforms. A family of more than one child would have to take turns on who uses the device a day. Students don’t even show up to class on various days because their siblings have to use the laptop. Moreover, not all families can afford more than one device. Teachers also can’t afford convenient laptops to get their job done. While a small number of teachers at public schools received laptops from the Ministry of Education, most did not receive any aid. Hence, some instructors still did not get the chance to teach their students online since the beginning of school closures.
Fourth, the absence of valid evaluation methods. Teachers have mentioned how some platforms only provide multiple choice answers. Other teachers can’t have a full examination of the platform available. “If we are just using MCQ tests, we’ll just have blank kids. They’ll just cheat.” a concern was voiced. A bigger issue with who is taking the test is being raised. One teacher mentions how she received a call from a parent to sit next to their kid and help them pass an exam at any cost. This case has been revealed more than once. Peers, tutors, even parents themselves are helping students solve their exams. Specific grade levels will be exempted from this school year and will pass on the following year, an issue parents are taking lightly. With the lack of a plausible solution, the concern remains about the evaluation of students throughout the school year.
Many teachers believe some of these issues can be resolved with the help of the MOE. Yet, due to an inept state, it’s a long shot to expect drastic changes.