SUPPORTING FAMILIES THROUGH A TOUGH START TO SCHOOL YEAR
As schools reopen in different formats amid rising COVID-19 cases in many countries, Middle East families are dealing with a difficult start to the school year. In a region where many already faced barriers to attending school, SAT-7 ACADEMY is a line of support, helping bridge gaps in primary education and between parents, children, and teachers.
“We started school online, but I have Internet problems at home during classes. I also have a great deal of homework after school hours,” says Sandra, a viewer in Kuwait, on SAT-7 KIDS. Viewer Theresa also shares that she is finding virtual learning difficult. “We lost direct contact with my teacher. I was hoping to return to school for communication with them,” she says.
As in schools and families across the world, pupils in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are having to adapt rapidly to new ways of learning, with many schools either fully online or offering blended learning, in which each class attends in person for just two days per week. As COVID-19 cases rise, some parents fear the long-term closure of in-person learning.
But many families in the region are having to navigate these changes while living with entrenched poverty, economic crisis, or a lack of technology to access schooling. In the very worst of these situations, the combined effect of these conditions can drive children to despair and desperation. Other students face power cuts that disrupt their learning, limited Internet access, and high levels of family stress.
SAT-7 ACADEMY has been offering Arabic-language distance learning by satellite television and online throughout the pandemic, having pioneered in providing primary education programs in literary, maths, science, and foreign languages to children in the MENA for several years. “The idea of My School came as a solution to help displaced children in the Middle East who were missing out on school, in order to help catch up on what they missed through SAT-7 channels,” says Juliana Sfeir, SAT-7 ACADEMY Brand Manager. Since the beginning of the pandemic, viewership of SAT-7 ACADEMY has increased by 330 percent, demonstrating the increased need for this support.
Space to talk
In response to the fears and questions many families have about the new school year, the education brand is also providing additional expert support to parents and students. The parenting advice program The Coach took live calls about virtual learning in a recent episode, allowing parents to express themselves and receive advice. Some shared their worries about connectivity problems and lack of teacher interaction, while working parents expressed concern about leaving their children alone at home with a laptop or iPad.
Ihab Maged, counselor and Presenter of The Coach, helped alleviate some concerns by stressing some benefits of virtual learning, which is encouraging more students in the region to be active learners. “Virtual learning can be a round-the-clock process. The information is available all the time to study and revise but in school the information is only mentioned once in class. Students can study at the best time of their concentration,” he says.
Maged also guided parents on how best to support their children. “This is a revolutionary era, and parents must adapt as soon as they can to help their children be education-seekers instead of passive learners. Parents’ role now is to guide their children, not monitor them awaiting grades,” he explained.
The education support program Follow Up also reassured parents by giving them a window into how teachers are adapting their methods. Joseph Nakhla, an ICT Specialist who spoke on the program, said that online learning has created a direct relationship between teacher and student that is new to education systems in the MENA. On the program Expert Advice, which was created specifically to support parents through the pandemic, teachers agreed. “Virtual learning has led us to revisit the curriculum we were teaching,” says Professor Scarlet Sarraf Tohme. “Our mission as teachers is to build a tolerant, cooperative, and open future generation. Education in this century should go far beyond providing information to students.”
“I’m not afraid anymore”
Meanwhile Presenter Marianne Awaraji ministered to the needs of SAT-7 KIDS’ youngest viewers on Hello Marianne. She encouraged children learning at home to limit other screen time, practice sports, and safely meet with their friends in small groups in order to help their emotional and psychological wellbeing. “Don’t be afraid, just do what you need to do, such as washing your hands and maintaining social distancing,” she said.
Steven, a viewer of the program, called to say, “The first day of school I was worried about going and about wearing a mask, and a little afraid that others wouldn’t take precautions. But after some time, I got used to it and I’m not afraid anymore.” Another viewer, Abdel Hakk, also called in. “I’m a little afraid to go back to school because of the coronavirus. But we must have faith and take all the precautions,” he says.