SIDON, Lebanon: A picture of a teacher sitting on the sidewalk with his laptop to use the internet of a nearby café went viral overnight Thursday, shedding light on the challenges of distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
Salim Saad, a teacher in Dr. Nazih Bizri High School in Sidon, ran to the café after his internet dropped to continue teaching his online classes. The picture of Saad squatting by the café quickly spread all over social media, with many users and activists online commending his efforts.
“I did not expect all these reactions and encouragement,” Saad told The Daily Star. “This brief picture embodies the reality that Lebanon is not equipped with the services required to carry out the distance education process.”
“There are endless issues with the electricity, the internet and technical problems, of which the teacher carries the responsibility,” Saad said. “But we are keen not to lose the school year ... and to fulfill the mission that we have committed ourselves to.”
Saad said that the day before the picture was taken, the electricity had cut out repeatedly, interrupting his lessons.
“I realize there is no feasible or near solution but we try do the best we can,” Saad said.
Lebanon’s residents have for years suffered with chronic electricity cuts. Reform of the electricity sector has been a major demand of Lebanon’s population of over 6 million. But frequent political stalemates, rampant corruption and infighting among rival politicians often derailed reforms.
Because of the pandemic, schools across the country have had to maneuver a hybrid teaching method – both online and in person – along with the strict application of virus prevention measures.
Saad explained that with distance learning teachers often carry the burden of relaying information to students online on the one hand, and not knowing whether students are paying attention on the other hand.
Students have also had to grapple with the challenges of distance learning.
“Our country is not prepared in its structure for this education system, so we face various problems,” said Rima al-Bunni, a student.
Lebanon’s economic crisis is forcing families to pull tens of thousands of children out of private schools that educate most students in the country, and into a long-neglected state education system that is already struggling to cope.
A source at the Education Ministry said in July that 120,000 students were expected to join public schools next year, as their parents could no longer afford sending them to private ones.