Coronavirus: Distance learning a vital tool during 'extraordinary circumstances'

Abu Dhabi education official outlines efforts made to get schools ready for the virtual classroom

The traditional classroom setting will be replaced by virtual learning for the next fortnight. Victor Besa / The National
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Education officials in Abu Dhabi said "extraordinary circumstances" required "extraordinary measures" as thousands of pupils prepare for their first day of distance learning on Sunday.

The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge said it has worked closely with more than 200 private schools across the emirate to ensure they are switched on for the challenges of the virtual classroom.

The hi-tech strategy was introduced after the Ministry of Education announced all schools were to close for a month as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Children will not start the day at their desk in a classroom, but will instead be in front of computer and tablet screens awaiting instruction from a teacher.

Government schools will run a home-teaching programme called Learn from Afar from March 22 to April 5.

"When the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority took a decision to suspend schools temporarily to protect our students from the spread of the novel coronavirus, we had to set in place all the necessary measures needed to activate distance learning," said Sara Musallam, Chairperson at Adek.

"Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures and what happened in the following days was an impressive showcase of social cohesion, unity and purpose. I’m extremely proud of how our entire community, from educators to private sector partners came together to rise up to the challenge."

Adek got plans in motion by hosting a contingency planning session on March 2 attended by representatives of more than 160 schools.

Following the session, 200 action plans were submitted by schools before being assessed by Adek.

A series of training sessions were then held in partnership with Microsoft to iron out any kinks in the system.

The education regulator than partnered top-performing schools with schools that needed additional support before launching their distance learning schemes.

"Strengthening our distance learning capabilities has been our top priority in the past two weeks. We have been working with educators and technology partners around the clock to ensure that schools are able to deliver learning efficiently and without disruption," said Ms Musallam.