Learning Never Stops – Higher Education Interregional Webinar on COVID-19

Currently, the temporary closures of higher education institutions (HEIs) due to the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer news, because most countries have stopped face-to-face teaching. The disruption to learning is unprecedented and places new challenges on governments to ensure the continuity of learning, and on learners, parents, and faculty. The impact of the pandemic on HEIs was abrupt and in the majority of cases there was no contingency plan other than to attempt to continue classes remotely. As ever the most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners are hardest hit. Going forward it is important that we shift attention to post-pandemic planning to ensure the highest degree possible of quality, inclusion and equity for all teachers and students. Given inequities in access to quality online learning, will there be a return to the status quo? Will the current pandemic be a wake-up call for the higher education community?

Against this backdrop, UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States and the Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in collaboration with the International Centre for Higher Education Innovation under the auspices of UNESCO (UNESCO-ICHEI). organized on 28 April 2020 an interactive webinar to explore emerging challenges and new futures of higher education across two world regions, including researchers and policymakers from the following:

Arab Region: Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria and United Arab Emirates

Asia-Pacific: China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand

270 participants, from 34 countries, attended the event to reflect on the means to the impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education teachers and students in the Arab and Asia-Pacific regions.

In his welcome words, Dr Anasse Bouhlal, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Higher Education, spoke of the support UNESCO Beirut has been providing for Arab Member States both before and during the COVID-19 crisis. He stressed that before the outbreak of the pandemic, UNESCO Beirut has been providing Member States in the Arab region with technical expertise and assistance in the areas of digital transformation of Higher Education, as well as quality assurance. Dr Bouhlal highlighted that following the outbreak of the pandemic, UNESCO Beirut formed two regional taskforces, one on Education and one on Communication, to support Arab Member States in respoding to the crisis. He added : “We circulated a government circular to Arab Member States to give them support and advice on how to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis in the Higher Education sector, and we had an open dialogue with States to share expertise and provide support”.

The two panels provided a great opportunity to reflect on the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on the Higher Education sector, in particular in terms of students’ assessment and evaluation, and the capacity building ot teachers on online teaching. Participants shared concerns, experiences and success stories, and reflected on the future of Education after the crisis.