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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: Around 6 million school students and half-a-million teachers in Saudi Arabia began the first week of the new academic year virtually on Sunday, but with shared frustration and a difficult start.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education (MoE) announced a test launch of its new Madrasati (My school) platform for distance learning last week before the start of the academic year, but many students and teachers have been struggling with their registration since the initial announcement.
A hashtag on the new educational platform was trending in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, where many students, parents, and teachers asked for help or expressed their frustration and confusion.
Secondary school student Mariam Harthi from Jeddah told Arab News that she preferred how things went last semester.
“It was much easier before this platform, we used to arrange everything with the teacher via our Telegram group and attend classes with her on ZOOM or Microsoft Teams, and things were going well. I still cannot register on the new platform and I don’t know why yet, although I followed the instructions. Something is wrong,” she said.
Secondary school student Saleh Omar from Makkah was able to complete creating his account on the platform, but said he doesn’t know how to use it yet.
“Thankfully, I was able to access the platform but I think it is just a matter of time to get used to it, but I know many people who are still struggling, but I think the problem can be fixed before next week.”
Many private schools had their own subscriptions to other educational platforms, and have already begun implementing their virtual education experience plan.
Reema Mohammed, a private school teacher in Jeddah, said that her school would begin classes starting Monday this week.
“Our school has experience with such platforms, therefore adapting to the new normal was a bit less challenging for us,” she said.
“I think confusion at the beginning of an academic school year is normal. The ministry has offered many other services for teachers that everyone is benefitting from, such as Ein website, YouTube and a number of TV channels. Students can still study until the unified platform is entirely functioning properly with everyone. We will eventually find a solution.”
Parents of students starting a new level are the ones finding the current situation the most uncertain.
“My son has just begun his intermediate level this year, and he still does not know anything about his teachers and schedule because I’m not able to use the platform yet,” said Maha Hazmi.
“It is a new level and he has to connect with his new school, teachers, and friends. The beginnings of such experiences are important and I hope he starts his first week the right way.”
On Saturday, the ministry announced that the first week of this school year will be a trial period so students, parents, and teachers can complete the registration process, get trained on how to use it and receive technical support to set up their accounts and become familiar with the platform.
Students’ and teachers’ attendance won’t be tracked during the first week, though everyone should follow their schedules starting from next week. Madrasati is a free platform that is set to facilitate students’ evaluation and communication between teachers and students as well as their parents.
It imitates a normal day at school that begins with the national anthem and some physical exercises before students start their classes.
It also allows teachers to create virtual classes and offers students a wide variety of content including presentations, educational videos, textbooks, exercises, and courses for different levels: Elementary, intermediate, and secondary.
It is one of the ministry’s steps in activating and enhancing the distance learning concept nationwide.
Earlier in April, Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al Al-Sheikh said distance learning could eventually be a strategic choice for Saudi Arabia and not just an alternative following the coronavirus disease crisis.
“We must adapt, live with the new normal, and estimate future risks that can affect students and that all faculty members may face in various settings,” said Al-Sheikh on Friday.
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