The implementation of social distancing measures in Bahrain has resulted in a widespread uptake of e-learning solutions, in order to minimise disruption to educational programmes.
Following the first reported case on February 21, the government made the decision to close all educational institutions, including public and private schools, universities and nurseries, on February 25.
Initially slated to last two weeks, the closure was subsequently made open-ended.
The shutdown of educational establishments is part of the country’s broader response to the pandemic, which has included the closure of the King Fahd Causeway link to neighbouring Saudi Arabia on March 8, and the closure of all retail stores – with the exception of those selling essential products – on March 26.
While flights in and out of the country have been significantly scaled back, some are still operational, although routes between certain countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been totally suspended.
Despite being one of the first states in the region to register Covid-19 cases, Bahrain has won international plaudits for its reaction to the pandemic, which has included comprehensive testing and screening procedures, and a so-called ‘war room’ designed to triage groups suspected of coming into contact with the virus.
The country has recorded 700 cases and four deaths as of April 5, from a global total of over 1.27m cases and 69,000 deaths.
While the closures initially disrupted plans for students, parents and education sector workers, educational institutions have teamed up with tech companies to ensure studies can continue.
About a month after institutions were first closed, on March 29 the government announced that nearly 150,000 students have been able to continue their education through a series of remote learning initiatives.
The bulk of this has been carried out through a dedicated electronic education portal, set up by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Bahrain Information and eGovernment Authority, in conjunction with international cloud computing platform Amazon Web Services.
As of March 29 some 146,000 students and more than 18,000 teachers had used the portal, which includes 6600 lessons, 754 sample questions and exams, 372 e-books and 273 other educational materials, with more being uploaded daily.
Expanded remote learning
Alongside the development of the portal, remote learning options are being facilitated through the country’s television sports network, Channel 2, which is broadcasting eight-hour lessons in a mixture of Arabic and English.
Meanwhile, for more specialised teaching, the MoE has launched an additional online service that allows teachers to connect with students online.
Using the Microsoft Teams and Office 365 programmes, the initiative allows a teacher to give lessons while specialised support staff answer any specific questions students may have.
Elsewhere, the telcos Bahrain Telecommunications Company and Zain Bahrain have announced that eligible customers will be able to browse designated educational websites without being charged or using their data.
While the state has taken a key role in enabling e-learning, a number of private players have also been proactive in allowing students to continue their studies.
“In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures adopted to fight it, virtual learning has proven to be a powerful tool. However, providing such learning requires substantial and sustained investment over time,” Tara Waudby, head of school at Riffa Views International School, told OBG. “In Bahrain, the rapid deployment of adequate tools for virtual learning in many private schools is actually the result of extensive efforts over time by schools investing in ICT infrastructure, innovative learning pedagogies and crisis management planning.”
While e-learning has seen an upsurge following the outbreak of the pandemic, the economy at large is braced for the impacts of a global economic downturn and a sharp reduction in the price of oil.
To help offset these impacts, on March 18 the government announced a BD4.3bn ($11.4bn) stimulus package to support the economy.
Equivalent to 29.6% of GDP, the package includes a measure to pay the salaries of all private sector employee for three months, starting in April, while the water and utility bills of both individuals and businesses will also be waived during that period.
Additionally, Bahrain’s liquidity fund will be doubled to $529.7m, while the central bank’s loan facilities will be increased to $9.7bn, to allow for debt instalments to be deferred and additional credit extended.