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PISQ kicks off new academic session with online classes

PISQ kicks off 
new academic 
session with 
online classes

Pakistan International School Qatar (PISQ) kicked off its new academic session (2020-2021) with online classes on April 1. The decision came in wake of the Qatar government’s decision to close schools and universities due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Established in the year 1985, PISQ prides itself in producing a treasure trove of innovators, critical thinkers, artists, poets, debaters and future leaders over a span of more than 30 years.
Located in Abu Hamour, the institute offers a congenial academic environment for pupils of the Pakistani community in Qatar at the Pre-school, Primary, Secondary and Higher Secondary levels. The school has 3,971 students currently enrolled in both Science and Humanities strands, including many dynamic students from different cultures and races, making the institution a hallmark of quality expatriate education.
With its spacious and purpose-built campus, small class sizes (20-30), multimedia equipped classrooms, fully furnished science and computer labs, up-to-date library, efficient bus service, and competent and dedicated faculty, the PISQ stands out among its peers.
The school maintains the highest percentage of successful candidates from the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (FBISE), Pakistan, who pass out to secure admissions in leading colleges and universities both in Pakistan and across the world.
A hi-tech campus for The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) stream is another valuable addition to the institution’s developmental regime.
In an interview with Qatar Tribune, PISQ Principal Nargis Raza Otho spoke in detail about the arrangements made by the institution to offer online educational facilities. She also highlighted the challenges being faced due to distance learning. Excerpts:
What are the challenges you faced in offering online classes?
Every new step takes a lot of courage and has many risk factors. When the schools closed down because of the pandemic, our first concern was our students and their learning process. I didn’t want the students to be disconnected from education and, to be honest, I could not see this crisis to end any sooner. Drastic times call for drastic measures, so we geared up for our distance learning programme. We had to take many factors into consideration before deciding on a final product. This included financial constraints, limited resources of parents, and their insufficient knowledge of e-learning regimen.
Which platforms are you using to facilitate online studies?
Initially, we are using WhatsApp as a platform to share the content and resources. This platform is regularly used by our school to keep parents updated about their children’s academic performance, so they are very much familiar with its interface and know how to use it. Side by side, my team has started working on Google classroom platform which will be operational for our students from April 12. Classrooms for all subjects have been made and the codes have been shared with parents. The first two weeks have been given to teachers, parents and students to familiarise themselves with its interface so that when we start our classes there, we face no hitch or obstacle. Zoom is another application which is being used to conduct online interactive sessions with students. Many applications are available online but we want to keep the system as simple as possible so that our students face no difficulty in adapting to the new methodology of teaching.
It seems a bit difficult to keep the students engaged through online teaching. What kinds of activities and resources are being planned and designed by your team to ensure student engagement and participation?
Our Heads and teachers are working round the clock to produce quality content and exclusive resources to deliver the lectures. Video lectures, PowerPoint presentations, topical worksheets, online videos, interactive online games related to the taught concepts… there is a lot my team is working on. We are doing all we can to ensure quality work on our part in order to facilitate the students in continuing the learning process. Our teachers are available to answer the queries of students and are giving one-on-one feedback so that they feel no gap in their knowledge and learn easily. At the same time, we are also keeping in mind the age categories of students and distance between teachers and students while designing the resource so that this paradigm shift can be made successful.
What methods are being used by your teachers to give feedback to students?
Well, this process of e-learning is different from face-to-face interactions, so obviously we have changed our feedback methodology as well. Students have been assigned their individual space on OneDrive where they upload their work. This way, teachers face less problem in sorting out the work. During school hours, the work is checked through on-screen marking, audio feedback, etc, and general comments are also given on their work. Since the teachers have access to the submitted work all the time, they mark it and give feedback throughout the day. This tells you how dedicated our teachers are.
How have the students and parents been responding to distance learning programme so far?
When we kicked off our distance learning programme, we were quite apprehensive about the response from the parents and students. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we got 80 percent attendance on Day 1 of the new academic year. Students were eagerly waiting for their studies to begin and they enthusiastically participated in all class discussions and activities. We share weekly timetable with them beforehand, so when they come to attend the classes they are well-prepared for the school day. It is just like regular class environment so they are really engaged while working. Parents have been sending encouraging and appreciative remarks as well. We understand that some parents have to accommodate more than one child so we are trying to decrease the load on them as much as possible. In this regard, we have reduced the school hours and number of subjects taught per day so that both students and parents have ample time to go through the taught concepts and complete the given tasks. The reassuring factor is that parents acknowledge our efforts and have ensured their full cooperation in this regard.
Anything you would like to say in the end.
First of all, I pray for this calamity to be over as soon as possible. The world is suffering and my heart goes out to all those who are battling this pandemic. I want to give the world a message of hope. We may have been weakened but not defeated. We will survive these hard times and emerge victorious. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the doctors and nurses out there who are battling as frontline warriors in these perilous circumstances, putting their lives at stake to keep us safe and healthy. We can never pay them back for the services they are rendering. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the teachers around the world who have held the pieces of the academic segment together by working 24/7, more than their regular school timing while ignoring their personal lives and making no compromise on delivering the best. I would also encourage the world to stand together and face this crisis as one unit. We have a lot to survive, and we need to stand united and firm.