Al-Sheikh: Collective efforts needed to meet challenges facing global education systems

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Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — International efforts were required to meet the "huge challenges" facing global educational systems as they scrambled to adapt to distance learning, Dr. Hamad Al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's education minister, said on Sunday.

He said: "No one expected a global crisis of this magnitude. No one expected the unprecedented worldwide lockdowns. No one expected for 1.6 billion students to be out of school because of school closures."

Al-Sheikh made the remarks during the opening session of the second day of the virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit under the Saudi presidency.

In the session tilted "the Education Continuity in Times of Crises," the Saudi education minister welcomed participants, pointing out that the Kingdom is holding the virtual summit twice this year.

“Recently there has been much discussion surrounding stimulus packages, interest rates, and GDP growth. Today, we will turn the discussion in a different direction, something far more important: Education!” Al-Sheikh said at the outset of his address.

“I want to emphasize Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s belief in the collective and participatory approach as the most effective way to confront the global crises and the importance of international cooperation during the critical and sensitive times,” he said.

The Saudi education minister in his speech focused on the unprecedented crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the G20 education priorities, the Saudi response to the crisis, and the challenges and the lessons learned.

He said that the Saudi education ministry’s priorities for the G20 Summit focus on three priorities that are of paramount importance. First is early childhood education as a foundation for developing global competence and 21st-century skills. Second is the internationalization in education. Third is ensuring continuity of education in times of crisis.

To ensure continued engagement in schools of students and teachers, his ministry delayed their announcement of plans until the end of the semester, Al-Sheikh said.

Regarding the Saudi response to the crisis, Al-Sheikh said that distance learning in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not a new concept. In fact, more than 40 years ago, the government was using closed-circuit TV. So, we had experience in this area.

"On March 8, three days before the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Saudi Ministry of Education closed schools around the nation. The next morning online all distance classrooms were in full session. Learning management systems were already in use in almost all higher education, though none had the capacity to accommodate a task of this magnitude," he revealed.

For universities, it was only a matter of transitioning from an additional learning tool to a main mode of learning. In public schools, the MOE broadcast 12 educational TV channels that paralleled the K-12 curriculum. This semester, there are 24 channels. Over the summer, the education ministry launched its national LMS Madrasiti in parallel with the 24 satellite broadcasting channels on Ein TV. The Learning Management Systems was centralized and flexible enough to cover all students, teachers, and schools, he added.

The minister of education affirmed that the challenges present new opportunities, where family and community are more engaged. “This will change the economics of education. Equal access and learning opportunities were guaranteed for all regardless of location,” he stressed.

"Now that education is available 24/7, students can accelerate their own learning, leading to the possibility for the concept of (k-12) to become obsolete. The principle of 12-year education could change dramatically with E-learning. Internationalization of education is becoming a major part of the international cooperation through virtual education mobility," the minister concluded.


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