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Gaza students embrace e-learning to avoid coronavirus

COVID-19 has forced schools and universities in the Palestinian territories to shut down, prompting the Gaza Ministry of Education and Higher Education to promote e-learning.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — To help contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in the Gaza Strip has launched a media campaign to encourage students to use the online courses broadcast on its media outlets, Rawafid website and Voice of Education Radio

The radio outlet, which was established in 2012 to broadcast live 12th-grade lessons, was upgraded early this year with improved equipment and technology. Virtual classes have been greatly expanded since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency March 5 to counter COVID-19, closing all schools and universities.

Gaza universities, such as the University of Palestine, Al-Quds Open University, the Islamic University of Gaza and Gaza University, have also called on their students to follow the universities' e-learning programs.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Voice of Education Radio director Tamer al-Sharif said that once the state of emergency was declared, the radio station promptly began including lessons for all grades in its broadcasts, banking on the success of the previous streaming videos of higher-level courses. He added that the interactive live broadcasts of the lessons help to improve students' understanding of the subjects.

“The radio stopped its regular broadcast and was quick to broadcast lessons targeting all school levels for 12 hours, in cooperation with skilled and competent teachers."

He added, "The number of views was way more than anticipated, with 6 million views of the courses in a week. Also, the number of followers of the radio station’s Facebook page spiked from 70,000 to 280,000 in one week.”

The streaming of these grades’ lessons so far is limited to the state of emergency. All videos are saved so students can watch them again later if they wish.

Sharif said that in past years, the ministry has used distance education as an aid in the learning process under normal circumstances.

The obstacles to e-learning in the Gaza Strip mainly involve power outages, subpar internet networks in general, and insufficient awareness among students and their families of the importance of e-learning. Some parents and students leave sarcastic and frustrating comments on the radio’s Facebook page.

Hatem Al Asouli, head of the media department at Gaza University, told Al-Monitor the university is keen to employ e-learning technologies and programs in the service of students and the learning process. Even before the state of emergency was declared, many lecturers, especially in communication sciences and languages, used Google Classroom in particular lectures, as it aligns with the nature of the courses they teach. 

“Google Classroom is being used as a key program for all majors at Gaza University, and lecturers are allowed to use all aid programs such as Zoom, Facebook and WhatsApp groups,” he said.

He explained that the coronavirus crisis has advanced the use of such programs and the recorded lectures are being uploaded without any delay so the students don't feel that the learning process was interrupted.

Asouli said e-learning programs have a wide audience among university students, adding the thing that distinguishes e-learning is that students are able to watch the videos whenever they have the chance, given that the lectures are uploaded on time and always available online.

Commenting on the main obstacles to e-learning at Gaza University, he explained that computers or smartphones are not available to some students, and not all students and lecturers are familiar with these programs. He pointed out that the university’s administration sought to form ad-hoc technical committees to help solve problems the students face, and the media department’s students launched a “help others” initiative to assist anyone without access to e-programs.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, sixth-grader Rital Ahmed explained that she is now following the lessons on the Voice of Education Radio’s Facebook page, and she communicates with her teacher on WhatsApp for questions.

“I am glad to catch up on the lessons from home. I really hope to get back to school very soon,” she said.

Ezzedine Salameh, a student at the University of Palestine, told Al-Monitor the slow internet connection makes it hard for him to follow all lectures, and he has no laptop at home. He indicated that e-learning is effective in some developed parts of the world where economic and technological capabilities are readily available, unlike in the besieged Gaza Strip where most of the residents suffer from poverty and experience power cuts. Salameh called on the university to allow students to take tests online in the wait for the crisis to end.

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