The start of a new school year has brought disappointment for some Saudi students and parents over what they say are “unrealistic expectations” in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Classes in the Kingdom will be held online for at least the first seven weeks when the school year gets underway on Sunday.
However, students were told on Friday they must wear their school uniform before logging into the “Madrasati” platform to join virtual classes.
Saudi Education Minister Hamad Al-Shaikh also said that students must prepare their desks, take part in morning exercises and sing the national anthem “in order to create a school-like atmosphere at home” — a notion that didn’t sit well with some students or their parents.
Zainab Jamal Suleiman, a stay-at-home mother to two elementary students, said that insisting on the school’s morning routine at home will not bring any results.
“With all due respect, I think the idea of creating an environment for the children by having them sing the national anthem and do morning exercises is a bit much,” she told Arab News.
“I don’t think it will help the students. They have already experienced online learning for more than three months last semester; they won’t feel it (school atmosphere),” she said.
Suleiman said that the “morning routine” will be an added burden for students already facing a difficult situation, with some starting classes later in the day.
Applying the school’s morning routine at home will encourage students in their studies.
The ministry previously announced that intermediate and high school students will start classes at 9 a.m. and elementary school students at 3 p.m.
“Having them sing the national anthem and wear their uniforms is not going to help. On the contrary, they will feel like it’s a burden; they just want to get classes over with and finish their day,” she said.
“Having them do this every day will not help them feel they are part of a school community.”
Suleiman also took issue with the requirement that students wear school uniforms at home, saying that many children had outgrown their uniforms.
“Am I going to pay for a new school uniform for this year while they’re at home? These requirements shouldn’t be mandatory, they should be optional,” she said.
Sharing the same view, 12th grade student Leena Sharawani said she is “not too happy” about the morning routine at home, especially since students won’t be using webcams while taking part in classes.
“I’m not really excited about it. We’re already waking up so early and having to put on a uniform sounds too much like a burden,” she told Arab News.
However, Sharawani said she is looking forward to reading the Qur’an, singing the national anthem and performing exercises. “They bring a sense of familiarity and make me feel like I am in school.”
Other parents have welcomed the ministry’s recommendations. Psychologist Bayan Al-Yafei said that applying the school’s morning routine at home will encourage students in their studies.
“I dress my third grader properly and fix her hair neatly — all that grooming to prepare her and boost her self esteem for her studies,” she told Arab News.
Even though classes will be online, Al-Yafei also wrapped her daughter’s school books with decorative covers.
“I even bought her a file, although there won’t be any paper exercises. But I will create them for her. I bought her a new pen and pencil set, pencil case and stickers to encourage her and add excitement to the new academic year.”