Sunday, February 05, 2023 | Rajab 13, 1444 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

It’s time to take back the classroom

What is important to Omanis right now? Covid? Yes, but its presence does look to be less threatening every day. The economy? Well yes, we tread lightly, but oil prices are stable, and tourism is on the rise again. The weather? It has been, um, changeable, let’s say, but still cool. Families? They remain, after faith, the strongest element of Omani society.


But schoolkids and schools still suffer under the yolk of the pandemic, their education adversely affected.


It’s time to walk away from the quicksand of online learning made necessary by the pandemic, to have teachers and pupils again face up to the effects of pandemic learning and face the challenges that must be the consequence of its ‘contactless’ learning mode. I am just one of the thousands of teachers having significant experience of online teaching, with the benefit of using multiple learning and support platforms. But, with recent classroom teaching experience while on study leave in the United Kingdom. It has been a genuine eye opener seeing how the school, a comprehensive, for 12- to 18-year-olds, its teachers and pupils, have responded to the process of getting their learning experiences ‘back on track.’


I must admit to hesitancy in ‘mixing’ again with large numbers of people in a relatively confined space, however, at the same time, I felt it was an opportunity to ‘walk the walk,’ in terms of my often-quoted Covid mantra, that we must “trust the science,” if we are ever to shake off the shackles of the pandemic. So, protected by my two Pfizer shots, and a booster, but still constantly masked around others, and still employing distancing protocols, frequent cleansing, and sanitising, I set forth.


The school, of 1,600 pupils and 100 odd teachers and teaching support staff, and custodial staff, were all given a full induction on the pandemic protocols to be utilised, and how graduating from one level of compliance to others would be reassessed on a weekly basis, with a consultative group formed to consider feedback from teacher, staff, and pupil representatives, and including government and health sector advice. Government by committee has always been viewed askance, with one wit noting that, “If Colombus had a committee, he would still be at the dock,” while another, comedian Milton Berle said, “A committee keeps minutes and loses hours.” We have all had such experiences, however, in this situation there was a defined single objective... to get the pupil’s learning experience, back from the brink, to being a quality learning experience once more.


What has surprised me, more than anything, has been the way in which the pupils have embraced the need, and the responsibility, for maintaining the pandemic protocols. While it has confirmed, for me, the resilience of youth, it has also forced the indelible impression that they recognise the social failings of isolation that facetime can never make up for, the failings of ever so well-intentioned online learning, and their realisation that teachers are essential to their personal and educational development. Throughout the school, a realisation has dawned... Teachers need their pupils, otherwise why are they teaching? They need their pupils to ‘complete them,’ to make them the best version of what they are. As a shepherd needs their flock, thus are teachers. So too, do pupils need their guides, of course they have parents, siblings, and families, but the knowledge and experience of teachers, no matter how good the intention, nobody can replace an effective teacher in a pupil’s eyes, or indeed, in their experience.


This symbiotic relationship, at this school, and no doubt at others too, has gained momentum from the confidence that everyone has in knowing what is expected of them, and what a revelation it is, to be sharing in this experience. The Sultanate of Oman too, I am convinced, now really needs to be ‘taking the bull by the horns,’ and reclaiming the educational high ground, sooner, rather than later.


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