Posted on April 06, 2020

Stuart V. Leeming, Executive Director of Qatar Foundation Schools, on how these schools are delivering e-learning – and how students, parents, and teachers have responded to it.

How prepared were QF schools to immediately start implementing e-learning when it was necessary to close buildings due to the COVID-19 situation?

There are many scenarios that may require a school to have to deliver learning remotely, so, in our contingency planning, QF schools have been developing online learning platforms and processes for some time. We are a school system that uses virtual learning environments heavily as part of the normal routine, rather than paper textbooks and notebooks, so very little change was needed at the older grades for content delivery and submission of assignments. Technology is integrated into our primary school curriculum too, and all the necessary technical infrastructure was in place.

How does e-learning work across mainstream QF schools?

We use a variety of techniques that reflect the diversity of our schools. Some e-learning is synchronous, with all the class present online with the teacher, interacting in real-time; some is asynchronous, allowing learning anytime, anywhere. Some sessions are live, others are recorded. Live sessions are often recorded and then posted to allow students who missed a session to catch-up.

And how does e-learning work within specialized QF schools such as Awsaj Academy, Renad Academy, Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, and Academyati? Are there particular elements that need to be tailored to these schools?

We have a wide variety of schools and students, and, just as in the regular world, the e-learning experience has to be tailored to suit the children’s needs. In the case of Awsaj Academy and Renad Academy, one has to begin with the needs of individual students – the system has to adapt to them, not the other way round. And in some cases, the primary relationship is between the school and the parent, with the school making it possible for the parent to provide the learning experience under close guidance.

Since e-learning was introduced, how do you feel both students and parents are responding to and engaging with it?

For their part, pupils have engaged enthusiastically and we have recorded strong attendance numbers and high quality work. Parents have been both supportive and grateful.

What do you believe are the challenges that e-learning poses, and what are its opportunities?

All education systems have their particular challenges and benefits. Lack of social contact with peers and teachers presents potential emotional health issues, and there are potential Safeguarding and Child Protection issues with the greater reliance on children’s access to the internet through home access points rather than our own controlled and filtered network. On the positive side, children develop greater self-reliance and begin to understand that learning is a lifelong activity that doesn’t have to be confined to school buildings and the school day. The opportunity for the future is to deliver more learning on demand with the availability of attractive, online courses.

How did PUE prepare and support teachers to deliver, and engage with, e-learning, and how have they responded to the need to deliver it at this time?

The sudden transition to e-learning has been very demanding on teachers, especially since they have been required to work from home rather than from their classrooms. And they have responded magnificently. It is often under such circumstances that the flexibility, good-will and sheer inventiveness of people comes to the fore. We are a technologically mature school system, though, so all our teachers are skilled in the concepts of 21st Century learning, much of which is predicated on the underpinning technology that is supporting our current delivery of virtual schools.

Does e-learning differ for students of different ages and grade levels? If so, how?

E-learning is as diverse as classroom learning. It has to be tailored to the age and the needs of the individual student. ‘One-size-fits-all’ doesn’t work in the classroom, and it doesn’t work online. The richness of what we are offering through our virtual schools reflects the richness of the skills and expertise of our well-qualified and dedicated faculty.

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