By Ahmad Jabr and Ben Garcia
KUWAIT: The issue of education in Kuwait amid the COVID-19 pandemic was back in the forefront yesterday when MPs charged during a National Assembly session that closing schools or a return to online education should never be in consideration. “The pandemic must not be used as an excuse to stop education,” MP Mubarak Al-Hajraf said during the session, adding that closing schools should be considered a thing of the past.
In the meantime, MP Dr Hamad Al-Matar demanded a clear response from the health ministry on the situation in schools, saying that the health and future of 650,000 students is at stake. “We don’t want to go back to online education,” he stressed. Public, private and foreign schools reopened this academic year after more than a year of closure due to the pandemic, during which schools resorted to online education.
The ministry set the maximum capacity for any classroom at 20 students, and students must sit two meters apart. For schools with more than 20 students per class, the class is divided into two groups: The first group goes to school on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday while the second group goes on Monday and Wednesday. In the next week, groups will swap attendance with the second group going on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and the first on Monday and Tuesday.
The health and education ministries insist that they are working together to monitor the situation in schools and make sure that health protocols are followed. However, the rise in daily COVID-19 cases since the start of 2022 has caused concern for students, parents and teachers alike, and reignited debate about whether education should return online or not. A Kuwait Times survey on social media showed 65 percent of respondents support going back to online education in Kuwait, while 35 percent are against it.
“I support online education because cases are rising, and we will get COVID if we go to school for sure. No matter how much precautions schools will take, you never know who has COVID,” one student commented. “Please make final exams online for our own safety.” “I don’t like having online classes too, but I would rather pick protecting my family than going to school,” one commenter wrote.
“No one is asking to stop education; just make it online for the safety of children,” another commentor said, arguing that it was difficult to make sure that health protocols are followed strictly, especially after school when “there is always a big crowd of students”. A teacher meanwhile was skeptical about whether the precautions are enough. “They need to implement stricter rules. They cannot put so many teachers’ lives at risk,” they wrote.
On the other hand, many believe that e-learning has a negative impact on education that far outweighs the positives. In a survey carried out by Ipsos last year, 65 percent stated that they prefer remote learning over face to face, although 67 percent believe that having children study at home has been impacting the household negatively. “Education has been damaged by going online for so long and we have to put an end to it,” said one parent who participated in the Kuwait Times survey, while another argued that “kids don’t study at home, they only play video games.”
A student meanwhile mentioned the negative psychological impact they faced while undergoing online education last year. “I myself want to go to school and have fun rather than the depressing six hours in the morning of online education,” they commented.
Many students and parents alike are also worried about the potential of kids catching COVID-19 ahead of major exams, for example. The current protocol requires schools to reschedule tests for students who test positive. However, there is concern that some schools may not follow through.
Recently, some posts emerged on social media claiming that students at a local school were told that they may fail their final exams if they do not show up to school on test day due to COVID-19. When contacted for comment, the principal of the school in question vehemently denied the allegation, insisting that they abide by the Ministry of Education’s regulations and will schedule a new date for students who test positive to take their exams.
Asked whether the school may allow students to take their tests online instead, the principal explained that this option is not available. “We have instructions from the Ministry of Education with regards to the final exams, that they must be held offline on campus,” said the principal. “If a student is infected with the virus, we can reschedule the exams for them as instructed by the ministry.”
Around 15,000 children contracted the virus in Kuwait since February 2020, Dr Mohammad Al-Ghunaim said during yesterday’s parliament session, adding that seven children were among total deaths from the virus during the same period. The health ministry has announced that vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 will start this week.