Kadhia Hamid Mohammed Al Nabhani
Owner, Jana’en Al-Hamra Private School (*), Al Hamra (**) (OMAN)

The Jana’en Al-Hamra Private School is located in Al Hamra, which is a scenic 400-year old town, in the Ad Dakhliyah region in northeastern Oman. For me, this school, which has been operating successfully for the last 11 years, is like an extended part of myself.

And the biggest blow for me, ever since the dreaded COVID-19 tore our lives apart, is that I am no longer able to open my school and be with my dear children!

I am of an active mind and have an outgoing personality. Therefore, I don’t like to stay cooped up in my home all the time. As the owner of the school, I am there on a daily basis. Also, I enjoy going out for a variety of reasons, mostly work-related and otherwise. I am also an avid traveller.

Working with renewed vigour
With the advent of the COVID-19, I had to put a full stop to all of these daily activities, which I have been habituated to. So, in other words, I am one of those who have been indirectly, but still negatively, affected by the pandemic.  But, thank God, I did not let it get me down. Despite the lockdown and all the other measures to be strictly followed, I kept myself fully active and occupied with a variety of chores, household and otherwise, which I performed with a new vigour.

Psychological impact on teachers
On the work front, what I felt was that this virus left a major psychological impact on all of us—teaching staff. We teachers are used to getting up early in the morning and starting our day with full vitality, zeal and passion and ready to impart the best education possible to the young minds. And with that out of our routine, we feel a bit empty within.

Blessings from the Almighty
Perhaps, only another teacher will understand the sentiment that I am trying to evoke here. Going to the school to teach is not a tedious or thankless task. The ability to teach and the opportunity to be with so many young and innocent children with eager minds and pure hearts is a blessing from the Almighty!

Welcome them with love
The mere sight of a swarm of excited students will itself gladden our hearts. Every day, instead of one child, we receive hundreds and we welcome them to the school with open arms, full of warmth and love.

Little things matter in a BIG way
For us the most heartwarming sight is the innocent smiles these children flash at us and their laughter and their joy in little things.

And these little things matter to us in a big way too. They way they file into their ranks and stand straight and do their bid to participate in the morning assembly itself gives us an early boost of inspiration to start the day.

Miss our beloved children
We see their scrubbed faces shining in our mind’s eye and then suddenly our heart shrink as we realise how much we were missing our beloved little children.

Suddenly so many things fill our minds and hearts as our eyes replay those days of a few months past where we were part of our students daily lives, their hits and misses, their victories and failures, their joy and pain and their sheer energy and vitality that was so infectious.

A friendly, growth-oriented environment
The emotional bind that we have with our students is also reciprocated. For them their school is not an institution that they dread to enter but a second home where they love to come to and be part of their extended family members, which includes plenty of friendly elders and equally friendly and fun siblings.

Some of the pupils are so engaged in this friendly and growth-oriented environment that they often come to visit us in our homes. One of the most exciting and eagerly awaited events at our school is the end-of-the-year ceremony. The pupils, their parents and we, their teachers alike, enjoy these year-end sessions and it brings all of us closer.

And today, as we reminisce about it, we tend to feel a bit emotional.

Learned a lot from the virus
Still, we are not going to be disheartened and will perceive the situation posed by COVID-19 as a blessing in disguise—a moment to contemplate on the many bounties bestowed upon us. The COVID-19 has been a tough and uncompromising teacher. And we learned a lot from this deadly virus. Much more than what we have learnt in a lifetime. As it spreads disease, pain, suffering, death and other unscalable losses, it also revealed some hidden treasures.

Online education is beyond reach for many
But, then while everyone is going gaga over the current Internet ‘revolution’, sadly, we cannot join in with the same enthusiasm. Online education does not figure as a great opportunity in our case – it is almost beyond the reach for many students here who need it the most.

Here, in the Wilayat of Al-Hamra, some families live in the mountains and the net cover is quite weak. And therefore such kids will not be able to enjoy remote education as many others. Many were not prepared to switch on to the online education as an alternative as none of us had any inkling that we will be in the middle of such a crisis. Moreover, the parents of some of these kids are also not equipped to handle the unavailability of the Internet.

Highlighting the benefits of online education
Fortunately, we were able to hold a staff meeting where teachers (all women) were introduced to choosing online education as an option. We had to convince parents to help reach a solution, which would help the future of their children. Some of these children come from poor backgrounds steeped in illiteracy. Therefore that is also a challenge to make them understand the benefits of online education.

But even if we come to a safe solution there, we still have to confront the psychological impact all of these stark changes are going to have on our students.

Even those who managed to get an online connection did not seem to be enthusiastic about it. Online education did not spark an interest in them; in fact some even complained of boredom.
The prime reason for this is that all of them were used to having direct interaction with their teachers and the atmosphere that we created in our regular classes had an endearing charm that these kids were quite attuned to. A physical classroom has so many ingredients that capture a young child’s attention. Moreover, there was also the direct interaction with their teachers. No student would ever miss the morning assemblies.

The class environment and the school’s indoor and outdoor activities including trips and other daily programmes always helped break the psychological barrier of fear in pupils and also enhanced their self-confidence. But then, let us talk of solutions.

Devised an online education plan
We are currently discussing the future plans and we intend to set clear goals for the next year and the years beyond. In fact, I have already devised an online education plan. I am banking on the familiarisation meeting with the mothers of the pupils, which will have a great impact on the next course of action in case the crisis persists. The parents, the teaching staff and I are making all possible efforts and are hopeful of reaching a solution very soon. Nothing is impossible!

Of course, at the outset I was confronted with a problem of managing the financial resources and was wondering how to complete the outstanding monthly installments. But with patience, strong will and cooperation from parents I have been able to get positive results.

(*) Under the supervision of the ministry of education

(**) As a wilayat (province), Al Hamra is home to many villages, including the mountainside village of Misfat Al Abryeen, with the village of Ghul to the northwest of the town, and Bimah to the north-northeast. Some of the oldest preserved houses in Oman can be found in Al Hamra, a town, built on a tilted rock slab. Many of the houses have two, three and even four stories, with ceilings made of palm beams and fronds topped by mud and straw.

Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman, sits northeast of Al Hamra town and Al Hoota cave, one among the largest cave systems in the world, is located at the foot of Jebel Shams (Source: Net)