More than two million students headed “reluctantly” to schools in Jordan this month amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) scare and uncertainty whether the safety measures adopted by the government in schools will be enough to secure students’ health. Concerns increased with the recent spike in coronavirus cases, which has reached 6,042 as of September 24.

Jordan schools coronavirus

Students wearing face masks at one of the schools in Amman head to classes (Photo by Roufan Nahhas)

To ensure social distancing, the Ministry of Education decided that school attendance for odd number grades between first and twelfth would begin on September 1, while even number grades began on September 2—a new arrangement to curb the spread of the virus.

Yet 45 public and private schools in Amman and two schools in Madaba governorate witnessed a delay in opening until further notice. Two schools belonging to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) decided to go online for 14 days after one student and one teacher were diagnosed with coronavirus.

And with more coronavirus cases discovered in schools, the government was forced to make a bold decision. After just 20 days, students were ordered to stay home and receive their education online, except children in first through third grade, creating more chaos and disbelief among parents, schools, and students.

The Kingdom’s 2020-21 school year has already been plagued by many challenges, starting with the impact of last year’s strike that was led by the 140,000 members of the heavyweight Jordan Teachers Syndicate. Additionally, 13 members of the Jordan Teachers Association (JTA) council have been suspended, and the organization and its branches are closing for two years over corruption charges.

The suspension and arrest of JTA’s ruling council triggered protests and confrontation which led to the issuance of a judicial gag order barring publication of news or commentary of the case.

The 13 members were released after one month of detention.

More than 51,000 private school students moved to the already-crowded public school system as news of hybrid education spread around.

Adding to the difficulties, more than 51,000 private school students moved to the already-crowded public school system as news of hybrid education spread around, and parents saw that there is no need to pay high fees if education will be conducted online for all institutions.

“It is a dilemma for us as parents. Shall we pay thousands of dollars to schools in fees and then accept teaching our children online, or move them to public schools and save money during such an economic burden?” Rana Omari, a mother of three (12, 9, and 7), told Inside Arabia.

“The financial situation is not so great right now due to the impact of COVID-19. We understand that private schools are facing an uphill situation, but they make millions per year and they understand that we, as parents, don’t make what they make. They should feel for us and not force us to move our children to public schools, which we did,” she added.

The economic blow of the coronavirus forced some private schools to let go of teachers and staff and even lower the salaries of others. When the government hesitantly decided to open schools, some private institutions increased tuition fees to compensate for the loss, which angered parents and forced some to refrain from paying last year’s tuition fees and even this year’s.

“What is the price of going to school online when all you need is Internet connectivity?” Ayman Sheikh, a father of two (12 and 9), said. “Students will be studying at homes and will not use any of the schools’ facilities such as classrooms, electricity, water…etc., so schools in a way will have no costs except salaries for teachers and staff. Now schools are forcing us to pay at least 30 percent of the total tuition fees and they have increased the price of books and uniforms.”

A head of one of the private schools in Amman, who refused to have her name mentioned, defended the decision to force parents to pay 30 percent of the fees saying: “We have salaries to pay and high costs to cover, and we have many parents who refused to pay tuition since last year due to the closure in March. We ask parents to cooperate during this unpredictable year.”

Jordan was one of the first countries in the region to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by imposing firm curfews and closing all educational institutions.

In mid-March, Jordan was one of the first countries in the region to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by imposing firm curfews and closing all educational institutions across the Kingdom. Online education was quickly adopted with the aim of continuing the learning process through the developing of Darsak, a digital platform for all students to use while they are at home, in addition to allocating two TV channels for such a purpose.

Jordan schools coronavirus

Students at one of Jordan’s private schools observe social distancing before classes (Photo by Roufan Nahhas)

The sudden shift from studying at schools to learning at home created many obstacles for everyone, including the government, who wanted to secure the health of citizens while at the same time ensuring students could continue their studies. Hybrid education was laid on the table, but as any system in the world, it gained supporters and objectors.

Munther Sourani, President of the Private School Owners Association in Jordan stated: “Only 30 percent of students in the private schools have registered so far, and we hope that this percentage will improve in the coming days. Online education would hurt private schools if it is adopted as the main educational system. Students, especially in the primary stage, need to stay [in the classroom] and learn how to read, write, and basic skills.”

Meanwhile, Thoqan Obeidat, an expert in the education sector and former secretary general at the Ministry of Education, has a different opinion. He believes that students in the primary stage do not actually need to go to school every day.

“They need to be taught how to learn science and not learn the sciences themselves, and this is done by focusing on reading comprehension and writing,” Obeidat told Inside Arabia. “The educational system at this stage is forced to develop in light of the coronavirus crisis, as children do not need to learn history, geography, and national education, but by focusing on understanding the language in reading and writing, we can teach them texts from all sciences. And for this, children only need to go to school for two or three days a week to develop their basic skills.”

Yazan Najjar, a 13-year-old student, expressed his sadness going to his school wearing a facemask: “It felt so weird to wear a mask inside the classroom, but we are trying to adapt to the new situation because we need to be safe. Not many students are following the rules set by the school, which is a bit worrying.”

The Ministry of Education has issued several precautionary measures to follow for the 3,974 public schools and 3,441 private schools around the Kingdom, such as wearing facemasks, physical distancing, and specific seating arrangements for classes and busses.

It remains to be seen whether these regulations will be adhered to, and if they will successfully limit the spread of coronavirus in Jordan’s schools.

 

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