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Has COVID-19 made us embrace the future?
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 21 - 09 - 2020

There have been many terrible consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, with countless lives lost and many more people becoming seriously ill.
International flights were also grounded and borders closed as countries went into lockdown to stop the disease spreading. But did these awful times give us a glimpse of how we will connect more easily with each other in the future?
This thought struck me as I attended a scientific initiative called the 2020 Virtual Research Camp at the University of Tabuk this summer. It was free of charge and aimed at helping students to improve their research skills, understanding the process from start to finish.
The thing which stood out most for me was the huge numbers of people that took part, logging on to learn digitally from many different locations. They did so to listen to inspirational leaders who gave their wisdom passionately, and for no reward.
Huge praise must go to the university's Rector Dr. Abdullah Altheyabi, Dean of the medicine faculty Dr. Abdullah Al-Amri and the owner of the initiative Dr. Fatimah Al-Belewi, for organizing such an eye-opening event.
It demonstrated just how effective e-learning can be, and the fact where you live is no obstacle to benefit from it, as long as you have an Internet connection.
COVID-19 has changed many things about how we view the world.
Ironically, through being locked down and not able to leave our houses, it's allowed us to connect more easily with those living large distances away.
For example, people have worked from home, using apps such as Zoom for meetings, while students have seen classes also move to online platforms.
The technology for this already existed — so maybe coronavirus has simply pushed us more quickly into a future we were heading towards anyway.
People's knowledge of e-learning has certainly increased massively in a very short space of time and many academics and educators are realizing the huge potential it has.
Going forward, we need to highlight all the benefits and use these methods to further develop the education system.
Attending an event no longer needs to involve traveling long distances to a venue, with a program put together depending on the availability of speakers.
Digital learning means great leaders who have sincerity and a genuine desire to impart their wisdom can reach far greater audiences. It also makes it easier for them to offer their time for no reward other than what they receive from Allah.
This means education can be accessible to so many more people.
The University of Tabuk's Virtual Research Camp was a great example of this and can provide the template for many future initiatives.
We must therefore plan for the future of education with ICT at its heart, as a way of enhancing productivity and better academic performance.
Our potential to learn and connect is limitless across borders, even when they are closed, and this is something the pandemic has highlighted.
We have been forced to embrace a future of teaching some of us thought was many years away.
And this is perhaps a small positive to have come from a difficult time in 2020 — we now realize learning really has no boundaries.
— Dr. Ghadeer Talal Melibari, holder of PhD in English from University of Hertfordshire, UK, is currently working as Assistant Professor of English teaching at Umm Al

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