Saudi Arabian teachers get timeline for Covid-19 as parents talk of return to school

Parents happy with e-learning provision and look forward to safety guidelines on schools re-opening

Secondary students sit for an exam in a government school in Riyadh June 15, 2008. Tens of thousands of Saudi students from elementary, middle and high schools have started their one-week mid-term exams.  REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed (SAUDI ARABIA) - GM1E46F1C6L01
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Saudi Arabia's Education Ministry announced a timetable for all school staff to be vaccinated before the start of the next academic year, raising hopes among parents that in-person teaching will soon return.

Schools shut last year because of the pandemic and the kingdom moved all teaching online with virtual classrooms, daily scheduled lessons across age groups broadcast online and on TV, as well as other means.

In February, the kingdom said that children would not return to schools until at least the next academic year.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Hamad Al Sheikh laid down the timeline for all school staff at all levels to receive their Covid-19 vaccines before August 2021.

No official announcements were made on the procedures or dates of schools reopening, and many people are wary, given a recent surge in Covid-19 case numbers.

Some welcomed the possibility of in-person classes resuming soon.

"I miss face-to-face interaction, it is much better for students and teachers," Zainab Kiran, a British teacher who works in Saudi Arabia, told The National.

A look at Saudi Arabia's drive-through Covid vaccination centres

A look at Saudi Arabia's drive-through Covid vaccination centres

But others say they are waiting for guidelines to show that schooling will be safe and that there will be no disruption to classes.

Other countries have reopened schools, only to shut them when case numbers rose again.

"Not everyone is vaccinated or responsible," said Karina Bassam Rabah, a Venezuelan citizen living in the kingdom.

Alaa Bayram, an American living in Saudi Arabia, said she was also worried about people sending their children to school when they were sick.

“The government did such an incredible job of ensuring children’s safety, unlike other countries. So going back now, I am nervous. My issue is the carelessness on the part of others,” she said.

"So many kids regularly come to school sick and that usually spreads and I always have to take my kid to the hospital. But, since corona, we haven't been even once. That says it all."

Several teachers said that virtual classes still felt the best way forward for older children and could help schools manage procedures more efficiently.

“E-learning is the future. We save so much time by teaching, marking and consulting online that we would spend travelling back and forth,” said Hanan Mustafa, a South African teacher in Saudi Arabia.

"Meetings and decisions take place much faster now with Zoom on our devices. I think schools should think about using e-learning for older pupils' high-school classes."

On Monday, the Education Ministry announced that it would launch an updated version of its Madrasati – Arabic for "my school" – platform for early childhood learning to help strengthen facilities for online classes.

The Health Ministry reported 793 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, taking the total number of confirmed infections to 394,169.