Suggestions for a Road Map
None of us deny the problems that come our way as educators and academics, whether in the private or public sectors. The economic crises we have been facing, along with the subsequent confinement and social distancing due to Covid-19, have put us in a place where we feel that there is no escape.
The Lebanese people are not accustomed to sitting idly by during crises and adversities, but instead they have always worked hard to find alternatives in order to turn their crises into inventions, innovations, new ideas and promising opportunities.
When this academic year ended, quarrels began along with an unfortunate blame game in attempt to place the responsibility on specific people. No matter what the reasons, crying over ruins has never built a home, founded a school or established a future for the people.
It would be better if we move on, plan for the coming academic year, and set all arguments aside, for they are a waste of time during this critical period. Tomorrow will not have mercy on us, and our children will not forgive us if we do not plan for a new year. If they lose it, we lose them.
Here, we must point out the role played by the teachers and thank them, because the latest developments have forced them to take education and curriculums to a whole new level, in a way they never expected at this time and this soon. But despite this, they succeeded significantly in keeping pace with the change in the best possible and available ways. We are proud of our professors who have spared no effort in following their students remotely or closely whenever the need arises.
This summer will not be a time for rest and recreation for our teachers but rather for a workshop to prepare for next year, with all the new, interactive and innovative thinking that it requires.
We ought not to forget the role of the parents who were also not ready for the new and emerging responsibilities, as well as the sudden repercussions, the pressing obligations, and the burdens on social, family, economic and financial levels.
This leads us to one solution: understanding and cooperating with each other to ensure a safe and successful education. We are all concerned because failure has no mercy on any of us.
It is time to make a plan for a new educational paradigm and say goodbye to the old one that is based on actual attendance at the school campus.
We present this working paper to suggest several different points that will help the educational sector in Lebanon in adapting to and preparing for the next academic year, while facing its challenges on different levels. In order to ensure success in this mission, we must first change our mindset and be positively open to the proposed ideas that eliminate obstacles and then find the best solutions in a cooperative, symbiotic and structural way.
Activating the Flexible Learning System
The crisis caused by the new Covid-19 was surprising and unexpected. The preparedness of various countries and their infrastructures differed in their response to the virus and its effects. Some countries stopped education definitively, whereas others took the necessary measures to continue accredited education, like Denmark, and merged class attendance with distance teaching, therefore following the Hybrid educational system.
We must emphasize here that the facts show that after the outbreak of Covid-19, countries were divided into three categories. The first category will go back to its usual working methods, whereas the second category will change the nature of its work a little bit before it goes back to the way it was. The third category is trying to benefit from this crisis by developing new methods that can be adopted in the future. But the question now is: Into what category does Lebanon fall regarding the educational plan?
There is no doubt that this crisis has accelerated the transition to the model of distance education in Lebanon, where it prompted the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the private sector to adopt an educational emergency plan that forced educational leaders (school principals), teaching staff (teachers), learners, and parents to quickly adjust in order to save the present situation. But the crisis preceded what schools should have pursued long ago in order to develop plans and programs that are expected to be introduced to the educational field in the coming years.
The repercussions and challenges of Covid-19 created new global educational approaches for the coming period in terms of adopting distance education as a main part of the work of educational institutions, in order to ensure the continuity of a smooth education and to enhance the preparedness of teachers and integrate their role with communication technology and the distance education system. When this crisis is over, the role of the teacher will not remain the same as before. Undoubtedly, this will require preparing the educational cadres in alignment with the coming phase.
A new model for flexible learning
First: Change mindsets and create a paradigm shift through developing awareness and guidance plans for all school sectors, in order to adapt to the new reality (awareness campaigns and training workshops plans for all stakeholders), in addition to involving all stakeholders, like school principals, teachers, learners, and parents, and help them understand the reality, and work with them on creating attentive thinking that enables them to achieve success on all levels.
Second: Respect social distancing and individual and public health through developing a detailed plan jointly with the Ministry of Health, so that this would be a major point under which all other points fall.
Third: Create a flexible blended learning strategy. Blended learning is a flexible learning strategy that requires choosing an appropriate management system for learning that maintains the balance between direct learning (face to face) and distance learning. The learner is allowed to have access to teaching materials with the answer keys to the accompanying activities and is able to communicate with the teacher.
Fourth: Develop the role of the teachers, from educators to trainers, advisors and facilitators.
Fifth: Make creative and flexible schedules for the courses that respect spatial or physical and social distancing, in order to ensure the continuity of education through two parallel paths. It also ensures the actual attendance of some of the teachers, while others continue to implement distance education, according to an arrangement that guarantees a reduction of the percentage of attendees in classes and of the transmission of the virus without any loss on the academic level.
Sixth: Develop interactive curriculums that fit present academic programs for distance learning, in coordination with the ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Center for Educational Research and Development, to prepare interactive curriculums that simulate future developments as quickly as possible.
Seventh: Rationalize the school’s budget to keep up with the new phase of flexible learning, in order to ensure the use of modern communication mechanisms, such as electronic devices (for every teacher and learner), networks, multimedia, audio and video, graphics, research mechanisms, electronic libraries, web portals, and the creation of virtual learning communities, to ensure the smooth use of all types of technology, and transmit information to the learner in a short time, with the least effort and for the greatest benefit.
Eighth: Train the educational and administrative cadres through professional development for all teachers focusing on interactive e-learning teaching skills and methods in order to create virtual learning societies that enhance the teacher’s abilities to manage education remotely and accommodate learning methods in order to ensure a safe and quality education.
Ninth: Communicate with higher education institutions to introduce academic pathways that aim to prepare bodies that oversee the distance learning process, such as professors, administrators, and technicians, in addition to introducing mandatory pathways that prepare university students who are specializing in the educational field.
Tenth: Lay a foundation to evaluate and assess performance, skills and e-learning outcomes, and coordinate with the ministry of Education and Higher Education to change fundamentals for methods of evaluation adopted in both public and private sectors, in accordance with the new reality and distance learning evaluation methods and in line with global standards, technological developments and standardization methods.
Eleventh: Implement behavioral discipline for remote learning that ensure an educational environment based on interaction that controls and regulates the behavior of the learners, teachers and parents, and that are in line with Cyber Security / Safety standards.
Twelfth: Guide and direct parents and help them fulfill their role in distance education just as they did with regular education. Parents need to ensure an educational environment for children, cooperate with the school to make the distance learning system work, and follow up regularly through positive and active participation.
Amidst these changes and developments, it is essential to praise the flexible spirit that characterizes our teachers who are adapting to the situation in order to ensure the success of all the efforts that have been made and that will be made to increase flexibility in learning and to provide appropriate and effective educational content. The role of the powerful teacher will eventually shine.
It is also necessary to use creative, multimedia methods to provide learning services in a new environment and keep up with the needs of our present day situation after the outbreak of the Covid-19 disease. It is important to work on building innovative partnerships between learners and teachers, all for the sake of keeping the educational mission alive, and promote them for the benefit of the next generations and the future of our dear Lebanon.
In order for these suggestions to come into effect in the quickest way possible, ministries and private and public educational institutions should join efforts to rapidly rescue the academic year through an inter-institutional committee from the public and private sectors. The committee’s mission is to:
- oversee changes and developments
- provide a supporting umbrella
- create restraints that ensure the health of this approach
Accordingly, we invite the Ministry of Communications to become a key partner in ensuring the quality and speed of the internet in all regions and to ensure free subscriptions for all students, according to the capabilities of each school, in order to avoid all the obstacles we faced in the previous emergency plan period. Let us not forget the role of the Ministry of Information that will always remain a cornerstone for creating awareness on the individual, social and national levels.
We hope that Lebanon remains a pioneer in the field of education, that Lebanese brains stay in Lebanon to seek a better future for all, and that all these suggestions serve as a proactive plan that supports education in the case of any emergency. We also consider this paper an essential element in the future of education, which is being adversely shaped by economic and sanitary developments and modern technology.
In conclusion, in Lebanon we have: 1 million students; 100,000 teachers; 90 days before the start of the new school year. Do we face reality or live in denial? Do we bicker or collaborate? If we succeed, we will preserve our children, our teachers and our schools.
Dr. Nabil Costa
CEO of LSESD and General Secretary of the Association of Evangelical Schools in Lebanon