Written by: Tharwat Zaid Al-Kilani

The educational deficit refers to the disparity between the planned curriculum (intended knowledge, skills and attitudes) and the actual educational attainment of students (acquired curriculum). It is characterised by a discrepancy between the allocated and realised time for education, resulting in a reduction in formal instructional hours and days.

The causes of the educational deficit, encompassing cognitive, social and emotional factors, become evident through the complete or partial closure of schools for varying durations. This hinders students from accessing education in its intended form. Illustrative examples include the violation of students' right to education by the Occupying Authority, which involves impeding their and their teachers' access to educational facilities. They can also be subjected to delays caused by widespread barriers across the country. Additionally, intentional demolition of schools, destruction of their infrastructure and disruption of the conducive learning environment occur in clear contravention of international conventions and norms. Notably, the two international covenants on civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights, emphasise the primacy of parents' rights to choose their children's educational path, affirming the entitlement of every individual to proper education and nurturing. They further underscore the imperative of education aimed at holistic human development, fostering a sense of dignity, upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms and condemning any acts of aggression, encroachment or violations that target educational institutions. Consequently, those responsible for perpetrating, planning or commanding such acts should be held accountable.

Moreover, the educational deficit is also influenced by unforeseen circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example which left a significant impact on the educational and learning landscape in all its facets. Additionally, there are cases related to environmental conditions during winter and summer, as well as occasions not included in the annual school calendar. Furthermore, the decision to reduce class duration from 45 to 40 minutes since 2007 has exacerbated the educational deficit. Other contributing factors stem from economic and social realms, curriculum design and teaching methodologies. There is a shift from cooperative learning to individual learning and disparities are also widened between countries with high human development and developing nations. Other factors include disparities in access to necessary technological learning resources at home and not having the capacity for self-directed learning.

Prominent indicators of the educational deficit in the cognitive domain include an increased dropout rate attributed to cognitive performance, low student achievement in school examinations, diminished performance in key subjects across all grades, decreased proficiency in higher-order thinking skills, an emphasis on superficial knowledge acquisition, declining learning motivation and persistence, widening individual disparities among students, educational setbacks, academic delays and a notable proportion of individuals lacking basic literacy skills.

In the social and emotional realm, the manifestations of the educational deficit are marked by heightened instances of psychological instability and reduced self-confidence among students, including anxiety, fear and stress. These conditions often lead to frequent partial or complete absences from school, increased dropout rates unrelated to cognitive factors, instances of intra-student and student-teacher violence, reduced participation in community and sporting activities, diminished enthusiasm for attending school and a reluctance to engage in collaborative tasks among peers.

The educational recovery plan, aimed at compensating students for their learning loss, holds significant importance, particularly in light of the prolonged disruption of the educational process during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were unable to attend school for approximately two years and the subsequent irregularity in education was due to teachers abstaining from their duties for extended periods of time in the post-pandemic years. This further exacerbated the situation. Therefore, it is imperative that the educational recovery plan takes into account the diversity of student needs by implementing tailored programmes that suit each student group.

To effectively address the educational deficit, it is essential to utilise appropriate assessment tools that can accurately measure the extent and nature of the learning loss. Moving away from standardised recovery programmes that treat all students the same, regardless of the magnitude and type of their educational gaps, alternative learning approaches should be introduced. These alternative approaches should be well-aligned with the current circumstances and make optimal use of technological resources, such as e-learning and remote learning. Leveraging these strategies can strategically help overcome the challenges associated with the current stage of education.

The involvement of educational counsellors is paramount in mitigating the negative psychological impact on students and all members of the educational community. Establishing effective communication channels with students who have been affected by the consequences of learning loss, including those with disabilities and those in remote areas, is crucial. Additionally, fostering collaboration with various local community institutions and establishing genuine and effective partnership opportunities will contribute to a comprehensive and successful recovery plan. It is equally important to create suitable avenues to develop administrative creativity within the educational field and to delegate appropriate levels of authority in order to empower stakeholders involved in the recovery process.

Recommendations:

- Adopt strategies for educational recovery, such as implementing extended learning time. This entails allocating additional time for high-quality learning, targeting all students based on their respective levels. Attendance should be compulsory to mitigate negative aspects such as fatigue and stress. Schools should provide extra time for learning, allowing for one or two additional daily support sessions that are tailored to the specific needs of each school (with flexibility). This means utilising Saturdays, if necessary. Consider extending the academic year or reintegrating students back into schools after completing their General Certificate of Secondary Education (Tawjihi) exams. Furthermore, revert to the pre-2007 class period duration of 45 minutes to facilitate extra learning time and foster student engagement within a nurturing and appealing educational environment.

- Accelerate learning for students, particularly those experiencing challenges in mathematics and reading during the early primary stage. Place special emphasis on mathematics, Arabic language and science in other grades. Focus on fundamental concepts and essential skills that have demonstrated performance decline according to diagnostic assessments and school examinations. Explore the option of engaging competent individuals for educational positions (substitute teachers) to offer support as instructional aides. These individuals can undergo brief training sessions at relatively reduced remuneration to operate as substitutes upon recruitment.

- Embrace differentiated teaching methodologies through the alignment of instruction with students' mastery levels of essential skills, irrespective of their grade level. Accordingly, group students can access accelerate learning during designated periods to ensure that all students are not exposed to the same subjects simultaneously. Personalise educational content to cater to the diverse needs and deficiencies of each student, utilising individualised teaching strategies (differentiated instruction) to compensate for any gaps in foundational competencies and skills that are required for their current and future academic progression. Ultimately, the success of this approach hinges on the teachers’ discretion.

- Identify essential skills and concepts that serve as foundational knowledge for subsequent years, placing emphasis on learning outcomes. Use educational packages developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and design assessment mechanisms that go beyond traditional methods that rely on multiple-choice questions, true or false statements or short paragraphs. In addition, there will be emphasis on the transition towards authentic assessment methods, performance tasks, peer assessment, self-assessment or portfolios that reflect actual or ongoing acquisition of skills and competencies by learners.

- Embrace diverse learning strategies, such as the flipped classroom approach, by integrating technology effectively into the learning process. The flipped classroom model transfers the learning process outside the traditional classroom, allocating in-class time for additional learning activities. Additionally, employ digital technology strategies that utilise electronic applications and technological programmes that facilitate individualised instruction.

- Adopt strategies for social and emotional recovery, such as establishing supportive and sustainable relationships with surrounding adults. Conducting home visits to enhance communication between the school administration and students’ families who were affected by the pandemic. Implement cooperative learning strategies, such as the Jigsaw method or group investigation, creating educational settings that allow learners to collaborate and interact effectively. Encourage project-based learning, fostering teamwork, cooperation and healthy competition through individual projects. These strategies promote self-confidence, work ethic, responsibility, acquisition of life skills, dialogue and discussion.

- Ensure that the educational staff possesses the necessary competencies and high efficiency to be able to bring about the desired development and enhance the employees’ capabilities based on their needs.

- Provide sufficient material and financial resources to facilitate the desired development and appropriate infrastructure that can support suitable educational strategies.

- Utilise a database (educational platforms) in various areas such as curriculum, teaching strategies and student records to employ suitable instructional approaches for students and meet technological requirements according to their needs.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.