Arab League launches e-learning site to combat disruption

Ten North African and 12 Arab countries are to benefit from an e-learning initiative that will facilitate open and online education during the coronavirus crisis that has led to the closure of most universities and educational institutions.

According to UNESCO, over 6 million university students have experienced disruption to their studies as a result of closures of higher education institutions in seven North African, Arab countries hit by the virus, namely, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia.

Universities remain open in the Comoro Islands and Djibouti where there have been no recorded cases of the virus, and in Somalia where at least one case has been recorded.

Launched on 12 March by the Tunisia-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), the e-learning initiative aims to ensure the continuity of learning and teaching during the coronavirus crisis by taking advantage of the latest technologies and their use in education.

ALECSO has prepared a dedicated website aggregating a list of freely accessible Arab educational resources, websites, platforms and applications for use by students and teachers, in collaboration with partners and experts in the field of educational technology.

ALECSO will share its expertise in open and technology enhanced education and makes available all its platforms and tools for free, namely the ALECSO OER (Open Educational Resources) Hub and ALECSO MOOC (massive open online course) platform, as well as providing technical support for teachers and students.

In Tunisia, the initiative was welcomed by Béchir Allouch, a professor at the Virtual University of Tunis. “The ALECSO e-learning initiative is in line with Tunisia's national strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which describes the practical and simple methods for all university teachers to use the distance learning platform provided by the Virtual University of Tunis,” he said.

“All e-learning referents and the network of correspondents of the virtual university, who are already in place in all universities, will thus be mobilised as facilitators and guides for university teachers in Tunisia,” said Allouch, who is also the president of the Tunisian Association for e-Learning.

He said in the context of the current crisis, quality may be compromised in the implementation of online learning. “But do we have any other choice, given the urgency, than to transpose the face-to-face courses and practices?” Allouch asked.

“Practising virtual education can be decreed but without guarantee that the actions decided at the top … will be implemented by the actors concerned in the field. The sustainability of possible changes is also not certain once the crisis is over,” Allouch said.

"Practising virtual education cannot be improvised. This requires special skills at the teacher level and is most effective when a change in teaching practices supports the use of ICT,” Allouch said.

He said it was important that commercial telecommunications operators support the initiatives by providing free and higher speed access in accordance with the “exceptional needs of the period”.