Coronavirus: parents and pupils reflect on first week of digital learning

Children across the UAE logged into lessons for their first taste of online classes this week

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. MARCH 2020. 
Alicia and her daughter Jasmine Hol, 11. 
First day of distance learning at the Hol family’s household.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Parents have called for more interaction between teachers and pupils after the first week of distance learning was completed in the UAE.

Public and private schools across the country are conducting a planned two weeks of remote education as part of measures aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus.

With many workers also now operating remotely, homes have been transformed into make-shift offices and classrooms as parents and pupils work side by side.

Alicia Hol, an Australian mother-of-three in Dubai, said the digital initiative has room for improvement, but believed her children were getting to grips with the challenge.

"Home learning would be better with more video based learning, and should be a combination of face-to-face and recorded videos."

Ms Hol suggested that pupils should be taught through videos first, and have access to a teacher who can answer questions later in the day.

"There are so many silly hiccups initially, like looking for passwords, but we are more comfortable with the system now," she said.

She said the biggest challenge has been getting into the routine.

"All three of my daughters require assistance and there were technical hiccups such as file sizes being too large.

Pupils believe more face-to-face interaction would bring distance learning to life.

Alicia's eldest daughter, Sarah Hol, 14, a pupil at Dubai English Speaking College said the learning schedule can prove hectic.

"The work overload is a lot and it's not all interesting," she said.

"The lessons are pretty much the same but there is a lot more to do. We are not seeing any of our friends so that does not help.

"Because we are doing it independently, we would not get so much work in class. The teachers realised they had assigned a lot of work and told us to do what we could.

"I don’t get many videos and I think these would be helpful. Also, conference calling is great and helps focus."

Lynda Marrington, a 43-year Australian in Dubai, said schools need to incorporate video conferences as pupils begin to feel isolated.

At the Marrington's home, both parents work during the day, while their children Sophie, 11, and James, 9, wake up early to start classwork.

Ms Marrington recommended an afternoon and a morning video conference session to guide pupils.

"More interaction with the teacher would be helpful," she said.

"My daughter is a very social person and she is missing the group work they do at school."

She said her daughter often works with friends virtually through video calls.

"One of the biggest challenges is that my husband has to teach online classes as he is a university teacher. We move our class time with the children around. It's not ideal but we are making it work," she said.

"We are all set up at the dining table. Working alongside has been a challenge as the children finish their work around noon."

Lynda's daughter, Sophie Marrington, a year six pupil at Royal Dubai School is still getting used to the change in environment.

"I miss meeting my friends the most," she said.

"The teacher sends pre-recorded videos and we can pause work through it.

 

"Social studies, Arabic and moral education are difficult to study online, as we usually have discussions on these in class.

"I don't understand Arabic very well so it's difficult to learn that through an iPad. Right now, we are just getting paragraphs with teachers reading to us.

"I would like to get more support from the teachers because at times the explanation is not clear."

Alison Rego, 37, a single parent from India who now lives in Sharjah, works during the day and makes sure her daughter completes her online lessons in the evening.

Everyday at 11am the teacher comes online for a roll call, where pupils can see each other online by accessing Microsoft Teams.

"I work during the day and have meetings online. My daughter is seven and she gets a few tasks which we can finish between 5pm and 7pm," said Ms Rego.

During the day, Alison's daughter Kristin who attends Scholars International Academy in Sharjah plays on her tablet, while she does her lessons and activities in the evening.

The mother called on schools to reduce workload on young pupils.

"I believe that schools should have distance learning every alternate day rather than every day for pupils under the age of 10," said Ms Rego.

"Schools should have online lessons three days a week for young pupils.

"Schools are holding classes every day because they are charging fees. These children don’t need classwork every day.

"The workload right now is a lot for anyone with more than one child."

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