In the Arab world, the disruptions caused by Covid-19 have posed new challenges for the future of education and added new hurdles to the prospects of youth in the search for jobs or in starting their own companies. Students and entrepreneurs, especially those living and working in conflict zones, are affected the most; their academic and professional future is at risk.
Against this backdrop, Al-Fanar Media and SPARK, a Netherlands-based nonprofit that supports higher education and job creation efforts in fragile states, organized an online conference that invited leaders in online education and job creation to discuss a momentous question:
“How can we best support vulnerable but ambitious students and entrepreneurs during and after the Covid-19 crisis?”
The conference, titled “Rebuilding Futures: Education and Jobs for Youth During Crisis,” was held on four days over two weeks in May. It brought together a variety of stakeholders, including university leaders, education scholars, online-learning experts, education advocacy groups, entrepreneurs, and students. With some 450 people listening in online, the speakers discussed the struggles, lessons learned, and opportunities to help the region shape the future of online education and job creation.
Below are descriptions of each of the sessions and links to videos where readers can listen to the sessions in full.
Week 1: Moving to Online Education
The conference’s first week focused on Arab educational institutions’ dash to shift their classes online after Covid-19 closed their campuses, and the worries that raised about the quality of the education provided and the effects on students’ academic year, mental health, and job future. It also focused on how the crisis might serve as a catalyst for enhancing online education and taking advantage of the interactivity and tracking of student learning that are possible in the digital space.
Wednesday, May 13
Keynote: The Catalysis of Crises and the Role of Distance Learning in Higher Education
Speaker: Fadlo Khuri, president of the American University of Beirut
Fadlo Khuri opened the conference with a discussion of how his university strove to ensure the continuity of its academic mission during the crisis, touching on topics like: How is distance learning serving this mission? and How do universities maintain their relevance in teaching, research, and service in this environment?
Panel discussion: The Acceleration of Online Education
Participants: Halil Can Emre, blended learning specialist, SPARK; Alper Tolga Kumtepe, College of Open Education, Anadolu University; Shireen Yacoub, chief executive of the platform Edraak; May Wazzan, independent consultant; and Dahlia Maarouf, leadership development specialist, Education Above All.
The panel covered topics like what can be learned from leaders in online education in the Middle East, and how administrators, teachers, and students overcame the obstacles they faced. Other concerns included how to guarantee access for all students, how to maintain the quality of education online, and what kind of support and partnerships will be needed to improve online learning going forward.
Panel discussion: Students Speak: The Teacher, the Screen and the Mute Button
Participants: Nowar Rahmouni, a recent graduate of the Lebanese International University and a SPARK scholarship recipient; Ahmet Medhi Samli, a student at Mersin University; Aya Yousef, a Palestinian student studying at the American University of Beirut on a scholarship from the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education; Rawan Yasmin, a scholarship program manager at the Al Ghurair Foundation; and Samar Farah, research director at the Al Ghurair Foundation.
Students and student advocates from across the Middle East and Turkey discuss their own experiences with learning online, what works and what doesn’t, and how they interact with instructors and fellow learners online.
Thursday, May 14
Keynote: Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) During Times of Large-Scale Disruption
Speaker: Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares, which focuses on education access and quality issues worldwide.
Tariq Al Gurg spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on his organization’s global efforts to expand technical and vocational education and training programs, as well as higher education.
Panel discussion: Teaching and Engaging Students Online
Participants: Ibrahim Al-Safadi, entrepreneur and founder of Luminus Education Group; Efe Carlık, international marketing and student recruitment specialist at Koç University; Maha Bali, associate professor of practice, Center for Learning and Teaching, American University in Cairo; and Amani Ismail, director of the International Foundation Program at the University of Hertfordshire’s new campus in Egypt.
Panel members discussed how the sudden switch to 100 percent online learning went for them and shared their thoughts about the most important factors teachers need to keep in mind when teaching online.
Panel discussion: Online Education for Jobs
Participants: Feras Alsaab, director of technical education at Re:Coded; Enis Kosem, general manager of United Works; Ayah Shashaa, director of business development at Udacity; and Leontine Specker, regional program director for SPARK in the MENA region.
The panel discussed how Covid-19 had worsened the job situation for youth, for women and for refugees, and had heightened the importance of online education and training efforts.
Week 2: Creating Jobs During Covid-19
The second week of the Rebuilding Futures conference looked at the challenges facing startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) in fragile states during the crisis, and how local and international organizations can best help entrepreneurs to adjust.
Wednesday, May 20
Keynote: Women Entrepreneurship During Crisis
Speaker: Hala Bugaighis, researcher, business-law expert and co-founder of Jusoor for Studies and Development
In this keynote, Hala Bugaighis shares her vision about the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs in crisis situations and what can be done to support them.
Panel discussion: How to Best Support Startups and SME’s During and After Crisis?
Participants: Marta Krupinska, head of Google for Startups in the UK; Bdour Al-Hyari, director of strategic planning at Microfund for Women; Nabil Kesraoui, managing director of Zitouna Tamkeen; and Tijmen Rooseboom, the Netherlands’ Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work.
The panel considered topics like how to support small and medium-sized enterprises in fragile states, and how to ensure continuing access to financing for them.
Panel discussion: Online Business Coaching
Participants: Ahmad Sufian Bayram, a social entrepreneur and author; Mehmet Uvez, gender and economic inclusion specialist with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); Saleem Najjar, founder of Sharqi Shop; and Elif Coskunkan, managing partner at Etohum.
The panel discussed the mentoring needs of young entrepreneurs who turn to peers and experts for coaching, and how the priority has shifted to online coaching now that face-to-face contact is impossible.
Thursday, May 21
Keynote: Covid-19: Challenges and Opportunities for Entrepreneurs
Speaker: Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman of Wamda Group
Fadi Ghandour, who leads a platform that invests in, nurtures and builds entrepreneurship ecosystems across the Middle East and North Africa, shared his vision on the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurs during crises.
Panel discussion: Entrepreneurs Speak: The Battle Against Covid-19
Participants: Grace Atkinson, director, Jusoor Syria; Mohammed Abu Matar, founder and chief executive of Tashkeel3D; Hamza Alouini, head of production at the Tunis-based factory ConsoMED; Richard van Hoolwerff, founder and chief executive of Emergi, a startup that offers innovative products to contribute to a renewable future; and Nowar Rahmouni, founder of “Gharna” for traditional, organic and handmade products.
Entrepreneurs are stepping up to produce essential goods to fight Covid-19—facemasks, gowns, sanitizers, and even ventilators. In this session, some of the front-runners talked about how they tackled the challenges they faced. The session also paid attention to how best to support entrepreneurs in times of crisis.
Panel discussion: Pathways to Jobs After Covid-19
Participants: Fadi Bishara, founder and chief executive of Blackbox, a support system for entrepreneurs; Alex Torrenegra, founder and chief executive of Torre, a professional network and jobs platform; Fahad Al-Dehaimi, a researcher and project manager with the Qatar Fund for Development; Haneen Khatib, SPARK country manager for Jordan; and Freddy Vega, co-founder and chief executive of the education platform Platzi.
This panel discussed how online education and skill training companies are partnering with new job portals and helping youth in developing countries gain meaningful employment.