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Vocational Education in the Arab Region Faces Challenges in Shifting Online

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In response, the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation has enabled its grantees to repurpose funds and buy laptops and data bundles for students to continue their education during the pandemic.

“The new Covid-19 reality taught us to re-emphasize the importance of being a flexible donor … and provide grantees with the opportunity to be creative in exploring solutions,” says Danah Dajani, the foundation’s director of philanthropic partnerships.

Mistrust of Online Learning

This hasn’t been easy, though. Despite the recent efforts to create functioning virtual classrooms in response to Covid-19, online learning remains far from mainstream for many schools across the Middle East and North Africa.

A survey of 1,000 Arab university students conducted by the Al Ghurair Foundation between October 2018 and January 2019 found that, while many students were willing to top up their studies with online courses, “Arab youth still have misconceptions around online learning, which seem to limit their openness to pursuing it for traditional degrees.” (See a related article, “Coronavirus Outbreak Forces Arab Countries to Consider Long-Ignored Online Education.”)

This hesitancy seems particularly strong among students in vocational and technical schools.

In Sudan, Hamdan Mohamed, a student at the Department of Telecommunications Engineering at Gezira College of Technology, in Khartoum, says the online method has failed the more vulnerable in his community. “We will not benefit. The Internet is weak in Sudan and students do not have the means to afford it,” he says. Worse, additional charges have been levied for courses going online. “I decided to stop studying this year because I need to earn money,” Mohamed says.

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Others struggle to engage with online lessons. In Egypt, Ahmed Saeed, 19, has been trying to keep up with his first-year mechatronics course at Beni-Suef University of Technology from his home in Alexandria, but says online teaching is no substitute for in-class training. “I am a technical high school graduate and I do not like theoretical study,” he says. “I do not feel that I have absorbed the lessons well … but we had no other solution.”

Even students who succeed in completing a program online may face frustrations as they start new jobs from home.

Two weeks into his new role as a software engineer at an IT services company in Jordan, Osama Mousa is becoming familiar with the demands of his job, but he misses the buzz of an office. “I like to be in an environment where I can mingle with friends and enjoy my work,” the 25-year-old says. “I’d prefer to prove myself in the office, but they told us that to stay safe we have to work from home.”

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