BEIRUT: Schools across Lebanon have now been closed for more than two weeks and will remain so until at least the end of the month as part of the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
In order to ensure that pupils of all ages do not miss out on any vital teaching, Education Minister Tarek Majzoub Tuesday announced a series of new measures to allow lessons to go on outside the classroom.
One option is for schools to deliver classes online. According to Majzoub's circular, Microsoft has offered to provide e-learning software free of charge to teachers and students across the country that will allow them to communicate in real-time, assign and complete tasks and provide feedback.
Albert Chamoun, a media adviser to the Education Ministry, told The Daily Star that the principal of each school would be in “regular contact” with the ministry to follow up on the effectiveness of the online system and the progress being made by students.
In addition, principals will send a weekly report to the ministry to track students’ progress as well as teachers’ working hours.
Many private schools began using such technologies as soon as the decision was made to close at the beginning of March.
At the American Community School Beirut, which teaches students from preschool all the way through high school, teachers and pupils were already somewhat prepared for the closures following their experiences in the fall.
“We were lucky enough to have a first run this past semester when we transferred to an off-campus learning environment,” Greg MacGilpin, ACS’ head, told The Daily Star.
Schools and universities closed for more than two weeks in late October in response to mass protests that blocked roads across the country.
Different e-learning platforms, such as Google Classroom and Seesaw, are used depending on the age group and teachers are easily available to reach via the usual phone and email channels.
“Teachers are able to see and respond to what [students] are doing in real-time, so there is instant gratification,” explained Rosie Ann Muhanna, ACS’ Director of Development and Alumni Relations.
Similar online learning programs have been introduced at the International College, a private high school in Beirut.
“Teachers have been working hard to salvage the school year and ensure students apply what they are learning,” said Tatiana Hamie Itani, IC’s lawyer.
“We are constantly fine tuning and improving the approach to provide the best possible learning.”
So far, feedback from parents at both schools has been overwhelmingly positive.
However, there are a number of challenges posed by the switch to remote learning, including parents juggling childcare and work commitments or having to learn how to help younger children with home learning activities.
Additionally, teaching remotely makes authentic assessment of learning tricky.
“When you’re in school, there are so many types of data to understand how students are learning, like non-verbal cues or quick moments between conversations,” MacGilpin said.
“You lose a lot of that online.”
While these challenges are applicable globally, Lebanon also has its own unique problems; electricity cuts of up to 12 hours a day and unreliable internet access in many regions.
To tackle the latter problem, the Education Ministry announced that state-owned channel TeleLiban, operated by the Information Ministry, would begin broadcasting lessons for middle and high school classes.
According to the ministry, the lessons will allow “the largest possible number of learners” to prepare for the official exams, which Majzoub has insisted will go ahead, despite the disruption.
Starting this week, the ministry will begin filming educational programs, which teachers will be able to use to add to their teaching. Students will be invited to ask questions on each program via a Google Form, which teachers will later answer.
Finally, to ensure that no student is left behind due to a lack of access to a television or a computer, schools will also be given the option of sticking to “traditional” teaching methods.
Students will be sent photocopies of lessons of assignments, which they complete and hand back to the teachers, who in turn provide their feedback.
The ministry assured parents that all papers would be sent “securely, ensuring that the coronavirus is not transmitted.”