With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting classroom education in Egypt and across the world, teachers are trying to keep instruction going and staying connected to their students during a hiatus that could last weeks and possibly longer. The rapid global adoption of online education led teachers, administrators and parents to lean on each other as they try to figure things out on the move.
After Egypt reported several confirmed coronavirus cases, teachers learned two weeks ago that — ready or not — they’d have to lead the way on what’s likely to become the largest online education experiment this country has seen. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced that schools and universities suspension will be extended for an additional 15 days.
Qualifying schools to move instruction online is a massive undertaking. However, the new online education system applied by the Ministry of Education in 2017 for secondary schooling has cushioned the impact. Dozens of teachers from diverse stages were trained in dealing with the online educational system as part of the ministry’s reform plan.
Yet, teachers at thousands of schools across the country are struggling for ways to teach students stuck at home.
People have been querying about the success of the experiment. Daily News Egypt spoke to some parents, students, and teachers from different school levels, as well as university lecturers and students, to find out how they handled the sudden transition to remote learning.
Parents of students in primary stages burdened with responsibilities
Rovane Al-Tair, a primary level English Teacher at a private school in 6th of October, shares lessons on Google Classroom, explaining that there is a designated teacher for every class, responsible for creating the account, inviting all teachers giving lessons and students’ parents to join.
Al-Tair’s school sent an email to all parents explaining how the education process will proceed in the next period, describing the email as the only communication between parents and school administration.
“We explained to them how to use Google Classroom, create accounts, and leave comments if they have questions,” Al-Tair said.
As an English teacher, she provides the studying material through PowerPoint presentation, and record audio explaining the content of each slide to her students. “We create, insert home works and sheets for students, supported by online model answers as well.”
Google Classroom, is a free app that allows students to access 20-minute assignments from a computer or mobile device. Teachers can track student progress, grade coursework, and provide feedback.
“We focus on the information that young students need in the upcoming education year,” Al-Tair said, explaining that, “for the primary stage, the burden is all on the parents, they should supervise the process and train their children on how to use the application and download documents since their children are very young.”
The teacher decided not to live-stream her classes, as students in this age will not be fully committed during the online class, instead, she uploads the latest lesson, and she has also created a virtual gallery, so kids and parents alike can view and leave comments.
Last week, the Minister of Education announced that students of first and second kindergarten and first and second primary grades will be required to prepare an assessment report to ensure students have completed the curriculum published in the electronic library.
“The situation is not clear so far, while the governor had already developed an electronic system for all students across all levels,” said Fatma Mohamed, whose daughter is a fifth-grader in a Beni Suef school.
She revealed that the school created a WhatsApp group, where teachers send each lesson in videos for different subjects, “my daughter is supposed to prepare a research project by the end of the year instead of final exams, and we only received PDF documents about it.”
Noura Abdel Hadi, mother of three students, in primary, preparatory, and secondary stages said that she is optimistic about the new system, but she is worried that her children will be not as committed when they’re not face-to-face with a teacher that can connect with them.
Abdel Hady added that “my son in primary level and my daughter in preparatory level are on vacation so far. Their school have not yet switched to an online system, however, they are temporarily following with the students via Whatsapp groups to send videos and educational material.”
However, her son will start online learning on Thursday and she waiting for his school to send a username and password to login to the e-learning website prepared. “In April, my daughter’s school will tell us about the online platform which we are supposed to give us, give us more information about the project and how students can work on it,” the mother explained.
Moreover, the mother also said that for her elder daughter in secondary school follows her teachers on Whatsapp, watches educational channels on TV, and uses various online platforms where she can get the knowledge from.
The students in the third primary to second preparatory will be able to contact class teachers via the ministry’s electronic platform to assist them conducting research in two months starting Thursday, Minister of Education announced last week.
Shawky said on Monday that it was agreed with the National Media Authority (NMA) to prepare lessons under the supervision of the ministry for the students of secondary school. He said that these lessons will be provided in high quality on educational channels at the earliest opportunity, in addition to providing the same service to other students in preparatory level.
Thanaweya Amma students left on their own
Thanaweya Amma, Egypt’s secondary school certificate, have recently been through several changes.
The mother of Hazem Ali, a third secondary level student, in a school at Giza’s El Hawamdeya, said that her son’s school has not communicated with them. But, her son continues his private lessons through online websites only.
She also explained that every teacher starts his live video at a certain time, without consideration to attendance.”
The mother added there is also a WhatsApp group with every teacher to follow up with students, but she is worried that students are not committed.
” Egyptian students are not fully committed without direct teacher supervision. Without a high level of consistency and structured routines, they just are lost, it’s a burden on them and for parents.”
It was not a different story for another third secondary level student Mariam Ahmed, who said that she is unsatisfied with the online learning so far, especially for the Arabic subject.
“I am used to solving grammar exercises with my teacher during the class, now it is a little bit difficult to practice alone,” the 18-year old student said. She explained that they are receiving videos through different platforms Facebook, Youtube and Whatsapp but not enough exercising on the provided information.
However, Ahmed also noted that some teachers follow up on them, downloading videos and only a few solve exercises during the video.
For the psychology and sociology subjects, she explained that the teacher only sends audio recordings demonstrating lessons, but so far no online exercises or exams.
When she asked how she assesses the live videos, the student said “I don’t like live videos, as some students can be a distraction and teachers can not control them, unlike the normal classroom. She prefers recorded videos.
“Some of my colleagues did not even start online private lessons, still waiting for the teachers to decide which application they will use. Some teachers are not satisfied with working before being pre-paid while others are still searching for online paid educational websites.”
The minister said that the final year exams for the first and second secondary grades will be done on a tablet device remotely and marked electronically. The results of the exam will be sent to the students online.
Egypt’s Knowledge Bank plays an important role in the new system of secondary education, inside and outside the school. It includes new content to assist students in their studies and all the curriculum.
Among the most prominent content added to the Knowledge Bank are educational programmes for all ages, as well as interactive mathematics programmes for the first to the third secondary grades, in addition to three-dimensional films in science and mathematics.
University students are facing fewer struggles
A lecturer at the faculty of Mass Communication in a private university in 6th of October city said: “We are using Zoom and WhatsApp group to contact with the students. So far it’s going fine, I would rate the experiment’s success at 65%-70%. Nevertheless, students are panicking and stressed out due to the surrounding conditions, which, unfortunately, affect their commitment and attendance.”
“Students are not always dedicated in normal classroom lectures, so it’s difficult to let them shoulder all the responsibility. Attendance was graded before, but now they have to attend for personal benefit, so the results are not very satisfactory,” the lecturer said.
She complained about internet connection, as there the network in Egypt is overloaded. “During lessons, some students face connection issues, which makes them miss some segments of the lecture. I keep repeating the explantation every time this happens and this wastes a lot of time.”
The lecturer also complained that the bulk of universities did not purchase programme licenses, so educators are using free trials. “Free trial offers 40-minutes only when the session ends I have to repeat the same process all-over.”
Regarding the exams, she said: “ We didn’t receive final decision yet, the ministry of higher education, said before that we can add the grades of mid-terms to final exams. But as a private university that has accreditation from a foreign university they did not like the idea, so we are still waiting for the university’s final decision.”
“In case we hold midterm exams it will be in the form of assignments and finals will be online through the university’s online portal. While final exams can be replaced with a thesis, critical analysis, or open-book exams,” she added.
Reem El-Kady, a student in the second year in faculty of pharmacy in Cairo university said that the professors send them recorded video lectures and provide them with PDF documents including all information.
“We use Google Classroom, for every professor, there is a folder where he adds the data of the subject whether video or PDF. When the video is ready we receive notification through the faculty’s email. There is no WhatsApp group and if we have concerns we contact professors through email and they respond directly, they are cooperative and lectures are always sent on time,” El-Kady said.
“After midterm exams were cancelled, we were assigned to do research and presentations instead. Other doctors created open-book quizzes, she said.
She also added that “As practical faculty, the issue is that we don’t go for labs anymore, but doctors promised to give all lab sessions in summer vacation in case we did not return before the end of May to universities.
Final exams in El-Kady’s faculty were postponed to end-May, for her switching to online education did not make any difference, “at university I was not allowed to ask the professor during lectures, I had to wait for them at their office, now I contact them directly.”
Another lecturer in the faculty of dentistry in Beni Suef University told Daily News Egypt, “We were told to prepare and upload lectures that would normally be spread over two months, in just two weeks. It is a very stressful task.”
She also believes that online education equated both dedicated and uncommitted students, as they will both have all the data regardless if they attend the lectures or not.