Education during the corona pandemic

These interviews took place on the 18th of February 2021 in Erbil and Ranya, to shed light on what teachers think and how they are dealing with teaching  in person with the new Covid-19 realities. Currently schools are open, with students in grades 1-12 attending in three day shifts, in order to keep class size down and respect physical distancing. Students and teachers are required to wear masks and use other hygiene precautions. 

Erbil team:

Name of Teacher:  Awat Abdullah Ismael, age 42, Head assistant.

School:  Alla female high school

How does it feel as teachers being back in school in this situation? Please describe shortly your situation in school, and steps of protection for teachers and students.

We all feel happy to return to school, the students have been separated from school for too long, almost a year. So, they are excited to go back. In Kurdistan, the schools are now working in shifts, three days a week and of course we abide by all the prevention measures by the ministry [of health].

What are your fears or worries while teaching nowadays?

We actually have a lot of concerns, since nowadays, we heard of new mutant corona cases in Iraq. So, we constantly talk to the students to wear masks, keep distance and stay safe. We keep on monitoring students.

How do you assess the students’ understanding of the pandemic?

Actually, as we told the students how school would be, they understood that it is different and inconvenient, lessons will not be as good as everyday class, but we can’t help it. Those students who are clever are especially happy returning to school. As for Corona, a lot of the students lost relatives to the virus. They know how serious it is, even the ones who were skeptical now believe in it. 

Thoughts about online teaching? Could it work in Kurdistan?

It was not useful, because so many students did not have access to the internet or could not understand classes. However, our teachers created Viber groups for their classes and any student was able to contact the teacher directly when there were questions. Nevertheless, the three days in person shift is much better than online class.

What are the (pros/cons) of this type of online education?

Of course, if there is a good system with sound and pictures [videos] and the parents can be alerted of class time, I think it may succeed up to 70%. As for the cons, sometimes the technique is not good, for example, my son had his online classes through Telegram with sound only, but it could be anyone sitting and not my son. Another downside is children quickly get attached to the internet and spend more time on gaming and social media.

Is there an increase of violent behavior among kids now?

In my opinion, no it has not. Because the situation is tough it requires group work. I even find myself using affectionate words more because as teachers you have to motivate them [students] to follow the instructions.  This is my experience for high school. But I assume it is even harder for primary schools. I heard sometimes the children swap facemasks, they do not understand the consequences. So, I think teachers must be much more patient than before.

As a community and as individuals how can we further unite to increase the awareness to follow Corona safety?

I think the work that you do is very important, because you provide awareness, you talk to the students and they listen to you. I think more organizations should focus on that

Are there any habits that corona has changed for the good?

Personally, I lost someone close due to corona, it made me think very seriously about hygiene. I might have been careful about hygiene before too, but not to the point of sanitizing everything. On social levels, I got much closer to my parents, husband and children and overall relations and expression of love increased for me.

What is your message For Directorate of Education, and for people?

My message is, education does not stop at home. I think the health instructions should be abided even if Corona was not around, because of other diseases. I believe through education social relations and families can also succeed.

Ranya team:

Name of teacher: Sazan Hamad Ali

School: Binar Female Evening High School

How does it feel as teachers being back in school in this situation?  

After a long time, we are thrilled to be back, all students and teachers are eager and we hope everyone stays safe. The situation now is unsettling, because we keep hearing on the news about new Corona variant cases which affects the minds of the students. In terms of protection measures, I don’t think it is going too well, because people can’t get used to wearing facemasks or the social distancing due to strong social relations.

What are your fears or worries while teaching nowadays?

We are mostly concerned about school closing down again, also the increase of Corona cases. However, I wish to say that with any challenges we must have a strong mentality and not to be scared.

How do you assess the students’ understanding of the pandemic?

I think students find it difficult along with teachers. Because students are not used to studying everything on their own and only come to class for exams. It is something new and hard to adjust to, it takes time and consistency.

What is your experience of online education in Kurdistan?

One of the good sides is that students can learn from the comfort of their own homes according to the system planned, also in terms of protecting students’ health I think it is good too. It can also save time for the students especially in terms of transportation and getting ready to school.

The bad side I would say is, getting used to it. because we associate our phones and computers to gaming and social media and entertainment, it is hard for students to focus.

Is there an increase of violent behavior among kids now?

I don’t think violence has increased within the schools, because teachers all focus now on catching up with the curriculum. However, at all times conflicts may occur regardless of the situation. When it comes to rules it does not have to be implemented forcefully. For example, when students are not allowed to use cellphones it has to be communicated nicely.  It is always said in schools you have child rearing first and then learning. So, we must first create a peaceful and violence free atmosphere then focus on education.

As community and as individuals how can we further unite to increase the awareness to abide instructions?

I think we need to educate individuals to love themselves first, because if they prioritize themselves and their health, they will protect themselves and they will also protect others by their actions. So, if everyone learned that, it would create a good effect.

 In your opinion, what are the long-term effects of a disrupted education system on society?

I believe the effect is big, it affects one’s intellectual ability. Because finishing a curriculum does not make one intellectual, but the social relationships and interactions with the members of society is what makes it. If we just focus on science, we will close ourselves in a circle. So, it is up to us what interactions to pick to further develop ourselves.

In your opinion, are there any habits that corona has changed for the good?

Well, when it comes to this situation, you mostly see the negatives. Personally, I think it has created more compassion and empathy within families, friends and sometimes someone you don’t even know and still wish them well and recovery. Also, I noticed that many rich people provide help and assistance to poor people. Lastly, I think it made families come closer because families used to spend less time with each other. More love and stronger relationships were created.

What is your message for Directorate of Education [DOE], and people?

It is important for people to love themselves; everyone wants good things. So, if everyone prioritized good and proper education for themselves and their families, they can have lots of effects. As for DoE, I think they need to focus more on updating teachers on new methods of teaching to match the ongoing changes in the world, because we teachers also never stop learning.