Six months after the coronavirus outbreak, Iraq is still recording high number of daily cases. The pandemic imposed a total lockdown during its early months and had a major impact on the educational process in Iraqi universities. This tremendous challenge forced some educational institutions, including the University of Karbala, to find alternative tools to finish the academic semester.
Since the start of 2017, UNDP has been working on implementing the e-learning system in the University of Karbala. It held a series of trainings to develop the skills of workers involved in applying the system and equipping university staff with state-of-the-art e-learning methods and tools, and the technique of developing and delivering e-learning content. Accordingly, the University of Karbala established the first e-learning department and developed the first e-learning platform.
After the Covid-19 outbreak and the nationwide curfew in Iraq, the University of Karbala began upgrading its platform to include handling all subjects and exams online to help students finish their academic year from home.
“The e-learning platform saved me time, effort and money and enabled me to explore new learning techniques and, most importantly, finish my academic year despite the curfew imposed due to COVID-19,” says Ahmad Khaled, a student at the College of Tourism Sciences at the University of Karbala.
“It definitely faced some obstacles including poor internet connectivity. However, the platform enabled me to replay lectures many times to better understand them. This helped me invest in my time at home during the quarantine. I am happy to be able to finish my academic year and do my exams online without interruption,” he added.
“After the coronavirus outbreak and closing universities, we were concerned about the impact of the crisis on the future of education in Iraq. Therefore, we began searching for solutions and decided to use our e-platform to finish the curriculum and conduct exams remotely. I am proud we were able to achieve this,” says Dr. Mowaffak Kazem, member of faculty at the University of Karbala.
Dr. Mowafak stresses the importance of e-learning in Iraq and ways to use it to develop the Iraqi educational institutions. “Through e-learning, the University of Karbala has managed to establish a base for planning and designing educational policies to transition to e-learning completely as it is the way to develop our education institutions and catch up with the advanced countries in the knowledge field,” he says.
The platform includes lectures which are updated on a regular basis and a section for electronic exams which was developed after the COVID-19 outbreak to enable students to do their exams from home.
“We did not expect the pandemic to have such impact on the education process and on our ability to complete the academic year. However, we managed to do it. Doing my exams online was a useful and interesting experience and easier than the traditional methods. The Iraqi education system needs to adopt more advanced methods including e-learning,” says Bilal Faisal, one of the students at the College of Tourism Sciences at the University of Karbala who undertook their exams online using the university’s platform.
“This experience contributed to moving the University of Karbala and its colleges to an advanced e-learning stage despite the emergency situations caused by COVID-19,” stresses Ali Khaz’al Jawad, faculty member at the university. “I was concerned about the possibility of conducting exams online. However, the trainings we received on using and handling the system helped a lot. Iraq is experiencing many exceptional circumstances including coronavirus. Therefore, we should adopt modern methods to be able to continue the academic year,” he adds.
The e-learning platform is part of the E-Learning Development and Support Project which is implemented by UNDP’s Iraq Public Sector Modernization Program in partnership with the University of Karbala. The colleges of engineering and sciences were chosen to pilot the project, which was later rolled out to include another 14 colleges. This helped the university develop a plan to adopt an integrated e-learning system and detect the weaknesses and strengths in the available infrastructure and human resources.