Saudi official makes distance learning statement that might have relevance to U.S. higher education

College students, and their fellow high school, middle school and elementary school colleagues, know all too well what learning away from the classroom and on a computer looks like.

Forced into an atypical learning environment because of the spread of coronavirus, some students are thriving, some are getting by and some are struggling. Sadly, some are doomed because they lack the technologies needed to complete their work.

And all of them could be facing the same situation again in the fall.

The potential for remote learning in the fall will be based on what the coronavirus situation looks like at that time. Predicting what the pandemic will be then is foolish; you’re welcomed to offer a guess, and I’ll watch from the sidelines.

What happens if remote learning gains steam in the U.S. and around the world once the pandemic has passed? For now, at least one government official believes distance learning might have matured and might be viable in the future.

According to the Saudi Gazette, the Saudi education minister is optimistic, based on what he’s seen over the past few weeks.

“Electronic learning after the coronavirus crisis will not be the same as it was before especially with the accelerated global trend toward e-learning and its technologies as a future option, and not just an alternative during exceptional circumstances,” Al Al-Sheikh was quoted as saying by the Saudi Press Agency.

Even though the minister’s remarks appear to reflect domestic instruction only, it’s not inconceivable to suggest this affinity for remote instruction could extend to colleges and universities. That’s where we in the U.S. need to pay attention: An estimated 60,000 Saudis are studying at a U.S. college or university. That figure could increase if the Kingdom affirms the importance of distance learning. And if colleges and universities opt to price online classes and programs at a lower rate, then the number of students go grow even more.

I’m not suggesting the online college experience compares to its on ground sibling. Nevertheless, if education leaders from countries such as China, India and Saudi Arabia advocate for their students taking an unlimited number of courses via remote delivery, then the number of international students studying at U.S. institutions could grow.

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