In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, a series of preemptive steps in Northern Syria, last March by the educational ministry. It announced a total shutdown of schools and universities until further notice based on the development of the virus. Though it is not the first time that schools are forcibly shut, this year multiple disruptions and halts were announced following a surge in the level of attacks due to military assaults by the Syrian-Russian militants.

According to Save the Children, there are currently over half a million students at approx. One thousand two hundred fifty-five schools have been affected by the shutdown that caused the pandemic.

Ever since many initiatives were launched to minimize the scope of the shutdown negative impact using online learning channels, however, the major hurdle remains the limited efficiency of the new educational methodology. 

This limitation is attributed to limited readiness in terms of the internet or technical equipment which ultimately undermines the student’s educational level.

Covid-19’s Countermeasures

The prolonged closure had sufficed crucial challenges for students, parents, and education administration as well to adapt to what has been called “the new normal”.

Although online courses are not the optimal method of learning, they were the only solution available to encounter lock-down circumstances. According to Majdi Basham, program manager at Huras Network

The Network is considered the main actor in northern Syria supporting a wide great percentage of schools and students. Although the NGO had to halt education, however, new mechanisms were hastily adopted to continue teaching via online chatting groups, i.e. WhatsApp.

“Teachers are sharing a recording of themselves explaining the new lessons and assigns students with multiple homework that they do and take a screenshot of or record themselves and send it back to the group,”

Majdi Basham – program manager – Huras Network

Nearly 21 thousand students had directly benefited from the online learning programs, although struggling from technical difficulties. Those who lacked connected were supplied with a Schooling Emergency Kit that contains free internet access codes to have access to online materials, in addition to other learning documents and instruction on how to use the self-learning online materials.

“The kits had instructions to the family members as well to assist their children throughout the virtual learning process,” The manager said

In parallel to WhatsApp groups, a new online platform was launched where varied online materials and activities where students can visit online and interact with throughout the week on their convenience,”

Overcoming the Hurdles of Edu-tech

Although this process takes longer to finish the classes due to the lack of adequate internet connection, however, it boosts students to look up for external learning materials to enrich and expand their knowledge,”

Nonetheless, the most affected segment from the school’s temporary closures has been (children with disabilities) who require unique learning methods that online learning has proved to be inadequate to fulfill the learning objectives or needs that those children need. 

According to Laila Heso, the communication manager in the Network explains that nearly 500 disabled children or with learning difficulties at the NGO have been disproportionately affected by the lockdown.

In a countermeasure, the NGO developed a distinctive learning methodology where a coordinator sits with the children’s house and a special supervisor calls them online to conduct the class individually.

Although this mechanism is hard to apply to all children, however, we had tried within our limited capacity scale to arrange the one to one learning session where available,

Laila Heso – Communication Manager – Huras Network

Cautious reopening & passion to comeback

The online-teaching during a global Pandemic and cross-economic circumstance do normally struggle from many downsides. Lamia, 16 years-old students in Idlib, explains that online learning methods have been extremely challenging and difficult to handle. 

“The concentration and productivity level have been deficient. It was very frustrating because of the new lack of interaction with our peers and the slow internet connection that constantly interrupted our learning,” she said

In addition, she notes that “I appreciates the availability of online learning because, over the past years, when the school was closed, it meant that we were about to be displaced or undergo the horror of death by airstrikes. But, not this time,”

over the past years, when the school was closed, it meant that we were about to be displaced or undergo the horror of death by airstrikes. But, not this time

Lamia, 16 years-old students in Idlib

Lamia believes that this period has made her more motivated to go back to school and do better than she has ever done before though she notes that online learning has been a somewhat beneficial experience in comparison to the disruption by a military insurgency in the past years.

Meanwhile, schools will gradually reopen starting from this week across northwestern Syria’s schools.

The minister of education in Idlib announced that schools would welcome students back to their schools, though underscoring the importance of adhering with the “needed necessary measures” concerning sterilizing schools and avoiding congregating students by the school administration.

Students will resume their schooling taking into account the social distancing rules supervised by their teachers. While such masseurs are crucial to avoid children’s infections, the challenges remain to jeopardize the application of ministry’s steps. 

The insufficient numbers narrow schools’ space renders avoiding students congregation and maintaining the precautionary health measures unattainable. And perhaps, endangering the health of the children, teachers, and society as well.