Al Maaref University organized a seminar on "Distance Learning: Education Prospects and Challenges" on Tuesday, July 21st, 2020. The participant panelists were: the Lebanese Government Prime Minister's adviser for Higher Education and Scientific Research Affairs, Dr. Assaad Eid, Al Maaref University's Academic and Scientific Adviser, and Sociology Professor, Dr. Talal Atrissi, The educational Professor and Researcher at the Lebanese University, Dr. Ghada Jouny, and Dr. Hassan Rkein, the Accounting Department Chairman at the Business Administration Faculty at Al Maaref University moderated the panel. The seminar was broadcasted electronically and attended by academics, researchers, and educational specialists.
Dr. Atrissi started by emphasizing that higher education, and learning before the university level is not a digital or technical practice, rather learning should have those connections with culture and society as well as to be serving the lofty Humanitarian causes that we live and work for.
Atrissi pointed out that the use of modern technologies does not necessarily mean that the level of education has become better, rather the tools are different. He then suggested, considering the advantage and importance of adopting a merging policy between "in-person and distance learning", as the university should not rush and bounce into the unknown because it may not have many preventive tools against any potential risks that might be faced by the higher education, as well as the society."
Sequentially, Dr. Jouny pointed out the different definitions of distance education and the need to define the type of distance learning that is being addressed. She discussed the importance of reaching an equitable solution regarding the serious challenge of conducting exams "in- person" or "remotely", and whether universities should consider distance learning as a satisfactory learning method.
To add, Jouny pointed out that distance- learning has flourished and shined recently as a result of the information technology revolution and the era of digitization and the availability of the internet services that are employed in serving distance education. She stressed that the quality of education is governed by the method of education itself, "so distance education can be a traditional one as well- as it is not the place that plays the required role rather it is the instructor's role in delivering the content and being satisfied with the delivering method without the need for interaction with the learner and that is known as passive learning." Subsequently, Jouny presented some distance- learning experiences in the Arab and the western world.
From his end, the Lebanese Government Prime Minister's adviser for Higher Education and Scientific Research Affairs, Dr. Assaad Eid drew attention to the most important challenge in distance-learning; the proficiency of instructors in teaching from behind the screens, with the appropriate required skills, besides the level of the delivered information that is taught remotely with those that students acquire in the classroom.
Moreover, Dr. Eid stressed on the importance of universities keeping pace with the digital development after the Coronavirus pandemic crisis in order to take advantage of that in the area of distance- learning, especially due to the lack of equality among geographical regions, as some are deprived of the availability of the internet and the essential technologies for such method of education, emphasizing the importance of the legislating distance-learning besides establishing appropriate rules and regulations that guarantee to achieve the required learning quality.
Furthermore, Dr. Eid pointed out the measures taken by the Lebanese government, since the beginning of the crisis, especially in regards to conducting exams in-person or digitally. Besides other challenges that the government faced in this area, noting that the government is considering the possibility of amending the Higher Education Law with jurists and experts, in addition to working on legislating "The Quality assurance of Higher Education” law that contributes to fulfilling many inquiries related to distance-learning and the quality of higher education in general.
After a set of valuable interactions by the participating professors, the President of Al Maaref University, Ali Alaeddine concluded by calling for the use of technology and digital methods to serve in raising the level of higher education and not by relating it to distance-learning only- stressing that "the pressure that we live by the Corona (COVID-19) pandemic should not lead us to fully accelerate the legislation of distance- learning in the absence of a law that would protect the quality of higher education and that would set the fundamental regulations for non-proliferation of chaos in this vital sector, and that secure the future of our youth.
In the end, Dr. Alaeddine asserted on the need to fulfill inquiries about the universities' future and the university's life and such impact on students, considering that adopting blended- learning methods would balance between benefiting from modern technologies and still maintaining a quality level of higher education. He concluded by promising that "The university will continue to take the responsibility of conducting research and dialogue on distance and digital learning, besides the regulations that must be adopted to protect and secure the future of higher education in Lebanon.