Education

Afghan students move to remote classes to fill gap caused by coronavirus

By Omar

The Afghan government has set up distance-learning solutions for students as it closes most schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Ministry of Education said it is implementing the initiative to ensure continuity of education for students while they study at home via television, radio and the internet. [Omar]

HERAT -- The Afghan government has set up distance-learning solutions for students as it closes most schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Education said it is implementing the initiative to ensure continuity of education for students while they study at home via television, radio and the internet.

"Given the increasing risks of the coronavirus [infection], we had to switch to the distance-learning option," said Nuria Nuhzat, a spokesperson for the ministry. "This alternative has been successful, and it has filled the gap created by the coronavirus outbreak to a fair extent."

"Science subjects will be taught on television and social science subjects through radio stations," she said. "Families can play an important role in teaching social sciences as parents who are literate can help their children with learning their subjects."

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A schoolgirl watches an educational programme on television in Herat city April 12.

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Schoolchildren watch an educational programme on TV in Nimroz Province on April 12. [Omar]

The Afghan government has closed all schools, universities and wedding halls in response to the pandemic.

Still, in-person classes at schools in villages and remote areas that lack access to TV and the internet will continue, with students and teachers complying with necessary health measures such as social distancing, Nuhzat added.

The distance-learning initiative comes as the Ministry of Higher Education said in a statement on Monday (April 20) that it has extended the closure of all higher education institutions for another 20 days -- until May 9 -- as part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday (April 21), there were 1,092 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, with 36 deaths, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

For students taking part in distance-learning programmes, classes are being aired on National TV (RTA) and a number of private TV channels in 34 provinces, Nuhzat said.

"Every day, 40 20-minute lessons are taught on TV channels and radio stations," she added.

Increasing awareness for families and students

Teaching classes on TV can help fill the education gap created by the pandemic to a great extent, said Mahmood Mahmoodi, a teacher at Nimroz University.

"The coronavirus has affected education systems around the world, and there is an apparent need for the world to implement alternative solutions that can help students avoid wasting their time," said Mahmoodi. "Afghanistan is implementing its first distance-learning endeavour that will hopefully achieve positive results."

"This solution helps protect students from contracting the coronavirus and provides them with learning opportunities at home," he said. "If the coronavirus threat is prolonged, these programmes can help increase knowledge and improve literacy in families."

Zakaria Rahimi, director of the Herat Education Department, so far is pleased with the home-schooling initiative.

"We began teaching school subjects on 16 local TV channels in Herat... [it] has achieved great results and satisfied the families of students," he said. "Students are attending their classes on TV channels."

In Herat Province, 75% of students in Herat city and nearby districts have access to distance-learning programmes on TV, he added.

"We have separate learning programmes for the remaining 25% of students who live in remote areas with no access to TV," said Rahimi.

Masood Noori, director of the Nimroz Department of Education, also hailed the remote-learning programmes set up by the government.

"Distance learning is a great initiative that has been implemented at the right time," he said. "All the local media outlets in Nimroz Province are helping the department of education by airing distance-learning sessions."

With families staying at home because of the coronavirus threat, these TV programmes provide an opportunity for the family members of students in Nimroz Province to learn too, he added.

Media contributions

Media outlets are airing the Ministry of Education's learning programmes free of charge, saying that their goal is to provide learning opportunities for children and families during the crisis.

One hour of school lessons and two hours of programmes aimed at raising families' awareness about the coronavirus threat are being aired six days a week on Asr, a private TV channel, said Habibullah Farahi, director of the channel.

"The pandemic has disrupted education systems in most countries around the world, and schools have been closed in Afghanistan as well," he said. "We want to teach all school subjects to students at their homes through the media and ensure a safe environment for them to learn."

"We air one hour of school lessons for free every day, which provides students with easy access to learning," added Farahi. "We are increasing our co-operation with the Department of Education, and if needed, we can allocate more airtime to them."

"Airing school lessons [on TV] has provided a learning opportunity for thousands of students at this critical time as Afghans continue to stay at home," said Jahanzaib Arya, director of Yazda TV in Zaranj, Nimroz Province.

"The coronavirus is a huge threat, but students staying at home without having access to learning is a disaster of the same level [as the pandemic]," he said. "We try to air school lessons for students to fill much of the gap that the coronavirus outbreak has created."

"We air three hours of school lessons [six days per week] for various grades," added Arya. "We want to bring the classrooms into [their] homes and get students involved in learning their lessons."

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Instead of offering education from distance, the government should provide a piece of bread to the people. People want bread. Children cannot learn lessons when they are hungry. Bread is more important than education. Most of the people are living in quarantine, while very limited number of them work for the government or private organizations and get salaries; the rest of the people run businesses, and these people should work every day to provide food for their families and children at the end of the day. When these people are in quarantine, where do they get food from? Why the government doesn't think about this, as it thinks about teaching on TV or online? Is solving the problem of hunger is important or education? Only 10 percent of the children may benefit from distance teaching. I think government authorities have made this decision in order that their own children are not left uneducated, as their children have both TVs at home and have access to internet. Poor people don’t have bread to eat; where do they get the internet from? Down with this incompetent government.

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Education is very important for the people of a country, but people’s lives are more important than education. People face a very deadly disease. Corona claims the lives of our compatriots every day, and the government hasn’t made any plans to control the disease. Some kits which were purchased from abroad were all used for diagnosing the disease of the government officials. No one cares about common people; even many doctors lost their lives because of not having protection clothing; therefore, the government should first think about rescuing its citizens, and then provide education to the people.

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I also appreciate the Ministry of Education for making such a good, precise and right decision. I should say that this pandemic disease, which has spread all over the world, is really worrying. One question which I should ask is what will happen to those students who are living in the villages and suburbs? As far as I know, there is not a single intelligent, experienced and kind teacher in the districts to teach students; then how can students have access to the internet and smartphones there? In order to please God and have sympathy with this destroyed country, ministry of education should deal seriously with those teachers who don’t have capability and talent, and fire them from their teaching positions. How many graduates do we have from the majors of engineering, science, technology, economics, and agriculture? All of them constitute the young and energetic part of the society, but unfortunately they are unemployed and sitting at home. With all respect that I have for my dear teachers, I want to say that teachers of algebra, physics, trigonometry, chemistry who are above 60 years old cannot teach well. Students neither enjoy their methods of teaching, nor do they hear any word precisely from them to be understood well. They all should be retired and replaced by young people. If these old teachers continue teaching at schools, the fate of our nation will get worsen than this, and we should not expect anything better. The cause of all these miseries is the illiteracy of our nation, because we are far from knowledge which is our foundation, and we are always following superstitions. Ministry of Education should focus its more attention on the schools of the districts and villages than on the urban schools. This is because all the miseries of our society today are due to the illiteracy of our people.

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This is a great decision, but the Ministry of Education has failed to manage it properly, because very few subjects are taught on some TVs. I have a suggestion for the Ministry of Education. My suggestion is that Ministry of Education should sign a contract with 12 television networks in the country; each of which should at least cover only science subjects, if they cannot cover all the subjects of a class, for two hours a day. And the Ministry of Education should itself set the time, as in which hour the subjects of which class of school should be taught on which television. And it should not be forgotten that online classes should be taught in two national languages, Pashto and Dari, because in some provinces, the school has curriculum in one of the two languages. This is very simple because there is only one school curriculum all over the country. There is no difference between school curricula.

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This will not give result for half of Afghanistan. In Takhar province, there has been no electricity for a week, and even the telecommunication networks are cut off by Taliban overnight. This can work in countries which have 24 hours electricity and all houses are connected to inexpensive internet. Is it possible for people in Afghanistan to download videos? Internet cannot open an email in half an hour. Then how can one download videos from YouTube?

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This is a good decision. Afghan Minister of Education is an experienced and professional person. In a very short time, he has done a lot of effective works for the education of Afghanistan. I wish him success from God.

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It is possible for students to some extent to pursue their school lessons on television, but it is not possible online, because school students do not have smartphones and if some of them have smartphones, they still do not have access to the internet. The internet does not work properly even in the cities. What should students in the villages do without electricity and internet? The Ministry of Education should try to assign teachers to teach students lessons on television.

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Very good. Radios and televisions in Afghanistan should further expand such teaching programs. People heard a lot of songs during the last 18 years and it is enough. If I had a television channel, I would have increased this time further because our people need to improve their education and build the country, not to watch stereotypical Iranian, Turkish and Indian programs.

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