Muscat: Schools in Oman could reopen to as low as just 16 students per classroom, according to plans devised by the Ministry of Education, to minimise the spread of COVID-19 among children and staff.
Once schools reopen, lessons will be taught to students in a blended format, which will combine online learning with physical teaching in the classroom.
Abdullah Al Busaidi, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education, said, “The application of blended learning varies from one school to another, according to the student population of each school, so that the number of students within a class does not exceed 16, to ensure physical distancing.”
With the aim being to achieve a physical distance of 1.5 metres between students, all core academic subjects will be taught in the classroom, while other subjects can be taught remotely.
Educational bodies will be offered the flexibility to adapt to the physical presence of students at school to suit their needs, and health protocols will be applied in all schools to ensure the safety of students.
In keeping with the measures introduced by the Ministry of Education, Indian and Pakistan Schools have also developed study plans.
Mohammed Zia Ul Haq Siddiqui, chairman of the Steering Committee for Pakistan Schools said, “We have about 40 to 45 students per class, so we will be splitting these into two batches of students. The first batch of 20 will come in the morning, and the second will arrive in the afternoon. We have planned to cancel recess for the students, so that they can have a straight learning shift, say until 11 am, after which the afternoon shift comes in around 2 pm.”
“If we still have some students who cannot be accommodated into either batch, we will have them in the school on alternate days, and the rest of the time, they can pursue online learning,” he added.
“Only our basic subjects such as English, maths and science will be taught physically. The rest, such as Urdu, religious studies and social sciences will be learned online.”
The Pakistan school system is attended by more than 5,500 students across seven institutions in Oman: Muscat, Sur, Salalah, Buraimi, Seeb, Musannah and Nizwa. As part of this, teachers will also work in two shifts, with their timings dependent on when they need to be at school for their lessons.
Siddiqui said, “If a teacher has his final lesson of the morning at 10 am, then we will make sure he gets a break and comes around, say, 3 pm, whereas if a teacher has taught his last class of the morning at 11 am, then his afternoon shift will accordingly begin later. Our teachers have been coping well with adjusting to online education.
“I know these times are not ideal, but we all have to adapt to the current conditions,” he added. “Students will also only occupy alternate rows of benches in classrooms. If the morning shift students occupy even-numbered rows, then the evening shift will only sit in odd-numbered ones, to avoid risk of infection. We have placed sanitisers in all the classrooms and in the corridors. Moreover, we have volunteers who will check the temperature of every student as they come in. If they are found to have COVID-19 symptoms, we will call his parents, take him or her to a separate area and make them pick their child up straight away.”
Indian schools in Oman have also been preparing to reopen under the guidelines of the ministry, according to Dr Baby Sam Saamuel, chairman of the Board of Directors of Indian Schools in Oman. “We have been preparing internally for the eventual reopening of schools,” he said. “However, we are currently awaiting the instructions and guidelines from the Ministry of Education in this regard, based on which alone we can finalise reopening strategies. Nevertheless, a blended learning model with increased focus on physical distancing, sanitisation and disinfection measures are definitely to be expected. We hope to receive these guidelines shortly and inform our parents and students accordingly.”
Following the temporary closure of schools to halt the spread of the pandemic, the need for them to continue education during this required the transition to e-learning. “Traditional education is currently prevalent in our schools, and this depends on direct contact between the teacher and student,” said Al Busaidi. “But this type of education no longer keeps pace with the current era. This is what led us to search for another way of education, which is electronic education, which in a broad sense, means education based on technology, distance learning or learning by using the internet.”
“Educational authorities have been developing a system that combines the advantages of traditional education and e-learning,” added the Undersecretary. “This blended education emerged because of it. The pandemic forced us to adopt this type of education in our schools, in light of global trends regarding education. The Sultanate will adopt the blended education system, starting from the next academic year.”
The Ministry of Education has devised a training plan for teachers to make the transition from traditional to blended education. Teacher training will begin once they return to school on September 17 to prepare for the upcoming academic term.
“Resources will be made available from the ministry,” said Al Busaidi.
“These are divided into educational content for teachers, as many are still learning to use e-learning across the governorates, and digital platforms such as Google Classroom, or those that are already employed by schools. We are close to finalising these. There is also a digital library and a special platform for teachers to learn and exchange knowledge with each other.”
To ensure that all schools in Oman have the necessary infrastructure to conduct distance learning with their students, the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology has been tasked with providing internet coverage to all of them, after the Ministry of Education conducted a study which showed that 140 schools needed better online services.
Adding to this, Faisal Al Busaidi, the general manager of the ministry’s IT department, said blended education would help students access lessons any time they wished to revise or gain better understanding of their subjects.
“The students can enter these digital platforms at any time and interact with his fellow students,” he said.
“This works well due to many students working together on the same subjects at the same time. Similarly, some lessons and activities can take place as usual, between students and teachers.”