Riyadh "Riyadh Daily"
Class is in Session: Keeping Education on Track with Distance Learning

With educational institutions across the Middle East having to suspend regular classes as a measure to contain and control the spread of Covid-19, increasing attention is being paid to distance learning. After all, second only to the safety, security and well-being of children, is the need to ensure that they can continue to receive a well-rounded education. 

Distance learning - which differs fundamentally from home schooling - aims to utilize digital technologies to replicate, as closely as possible, the experience students would have if they were physically present in a classroom. It’s a field that has evolved rapidly in recent years owing to pervasive broadband internet, and the availability and convenience of smart devices, and digital collaboration tools. And now, as the coronavirus outbreak threats to impact the education of over 1.4 billion students globally, distance learning is indeed the need of the hour. 

Shifts in Societal Norms

There are of course some potential barriers, and first among these are social norms and preconceptions. As with any radical innovation, due to its fundamental differences with historically established practices, it has raised apprehensions. While most of these are baseless assumptions that can easily be disproven, I acknowledge that the support that students are able to receive from their parents, teachers and guardians will undeniably determine the outcome. 

With this in mind, as society begins to embrace distance learning at an accelerated pace, there is a need for new social norms to be established. Parents must now play an integral part in the formal education of their children. They will have to create a home environment that is free of distractions and inculcates discipline. 

Schools too must adapt and provide quick remedies to upcoming challenges - as an example, sharing recordings of classrooms sessions to students who face connectivity issues. They must also work hard to maintain the 'human connection' with both students and parents and can do so through calls and regular digital contact. These engagements will also serve to encourage and ensure that students adhere to timelines and maintain the quality of their assignments.

The Tech Factor

As distance learning programs start to be implemented, the seismic shifts in mindset must be accompanied by advancements on the technological front too. Digital technologies are the foundation of distance learning initiatives and educational institutions need to invest in collaboration tools that deliver two-way voice and video communication capabilities and features like recording and the ability to pause, rewind or switch presenters. These digital platforms must also facilitate instantaneous sharing of content such as course work, and the convenient set-up and moderation of virtual discussion boards, forums, and study groups. And just as high-speed internet connectivity is so essential a factor, so too should be the security and privacy of the entire distance learning platform.

Lessons to be Learned

In times of its greatest crises, humanity has unfailing demonstrated is resilience, unity and ingenuity. As Avaya has demonstrated with Avaya Spaces – our premium collaboration app which we are offering for free to educational institutions across the globe – the technologies need to support distance learning are both proven and effective. I am confident that educational institutions, parents and students will rise up to the task, thereby laying the foundation for distance learning to not only be an effective answer to current challenges but an invaluable tool in the education of bright young minds.

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