Coronavirus distance learning cannot replace face-to-face teaching, expert tells UAE

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Distance learning techniques will never fully replace “face-to-face” teaching despite their adoption during the coronavirus pandemic, said France’s former Minister of Education Jack Lang in a virtual panel chaired by the UAE to discuss the future of education, reported on by the official WAM news agency.

“The coronavirus has made us aware of the extent of digital tools that can help teachers. But the next world should not be the one of distance learning and the definitive grip of digital technology. Distance learning will never replace ‘face-to-face’ teaching,” said Lang, who is also President of the Arab World Institute in Paris.

“In higher education, some voices are already calling for a massive recourse to distance education at the beginning of the next school year. I believe that such measures could be dramatic,” he added.

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Lang’s comments came in a virtual meeting of international experts hosted by the UAE that discussed the challenges and opportunities for education in the context of COVID-19.

The meeting was chaired by the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is also the chairman of the UAE’s Education and Human Resources Council (EHRC).

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UAE enters ‘new stage’ of education

The UAE was quick to close schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus among children and staff in early March.

Schools have remained shut since, with authorities adopting a distance learning program in which students use technology to continue learning from home.

Sheikh Abdullah praised the UAE’s approach and said it had been a “global example” for containing the virus.

“The precautionary and preventive measures taken by the UAE have become a global example of how to contain the pandemic and reflected the leadership’s vision for placing people’s safety and wellbeing as a top priority and for mitigating any impact on development drive across the various sectors, particularly the education,” he said in WAM.

According to Sheikh Abdullah, Sunday’s virtual meeting was the beginning of a “new stage” in the UAE’s approach to education and work under coronavirus.

“This meeting has come to mark the beginning of a new stage and to discuss the practical steps that should be taken in order to reopen our schools and the labour market again,” he was quoted by WAM as saying.

The UAE’s academic year will restart on August 30, announced UAE Minister of Education Hussain ibn Ibrahim al-Hammadi via WAM on Monday. The decision does not specify whether students will return to school premises or if education will be conducted through distancing learning, or a combination of the two.

Read more:

Coronavirus: UAE schools to restart August 30, says minister

Coronavirus shuts schools in UAE, all you need to know about studying from home

Distance learning could be strategic choice post-coronavirus crisis: Saudi minister

Experts caution against distance learning

The virtual meeting was attended by a range of UAE and international education experts who gave their perspectives on distance learning.

According to Professor Becky Francis, the CEO of the UK’s Education Endowment Fund, distance learning had proved ineffective during lockdown in the UK.

“Surveys of teachers and parents in England in 2020 show that many pupils are not engaging in high-quality home learning and that disadvantaged pupils appear to be learning less than their peers,” she told the meeting.
Another professor added that distance learning does not provide the social function of schools.

“Remote learning has become the lifeline for learning, but it does not address the social functions of schools. Access, use and quality of online resources amplify inequality and accreditation is at stake,” said Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Director of Education and Skills Professor Andreas Schleicher.

The meeting was also attended by UAE officials including Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Chairman of Executive Affairs Authority, Abu Dhabi, and Vice Chairman of EHRC’s Advisory Panel, Sultan Saeed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy, Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, among many others.