Distance learning is here to stay, Saudi education minister says


DUBAI: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has pushed the education industry online, with countries scrambling to implement distance learning initiatives.

But as the world moves closer to ending the pandemic, will education go back to its traditional setup? Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh doesn’t think so.

Speaking at a media briefing on the last day of the Group of Twenty (G20) Summit in Riyadh, Al-Sheikh said blended education — the combination of online and physical learning — has become the new norm because of COVID-19.

“It is going to be the beginning of a new era in education, where blended education is the norm,” the minister said, adding a single method approach was becoming the exception.

“The concept of distance learning as a ‘subproduct’ in the past has changed now because of COVID-19 — the crisis created an opportunity,” he said.

The minister added the changes had also brought to light other issues within the education sector, including the length in which students take to finish programs.

“The 12-year-ladder could be different,” he said, explaining the flexibility of distance learning.

The prejudice against online education would disappear, Al-Sheikh added, as the world continues to adapt new learning strategies.

He said this “new normal” had also seen a shift in emphasis on learning outcomes, as opposed to giving too much attention to the method.

But Al-Sheikh recognized the challenges of managing distance learning programs, which he said needed “good governance in order to work.”

He explained different countries had different resources, which was a challenge, particularly at the onset of the pandemic.

In Saudi Arabia, schools were shut down as early as March, in a government move to prioritize the health of its citizens. Since then, the Kingdom has thought of ways to continue education at home, which led to an e-learning portal called Madrasati.

The free platform, which launched in August, facilitates students’ evaluation and communication between teachers and students as well as their parents. 

Al-Sheikh lauded the G20 education working group for its agile response to the pandemic.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia

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