On International Day of Education, students from QF partner universities talk about the shift in their learning experience during the pandemic
After an exceptionally challenging year that has disrupted humanity in an unprecedented way, young people across the world have found themselves in a mystifying situation.
Being the first generation in modern history to witness a global pandemic and having to deal with its consequences – from lockdown to remote learning – it left them with many questions about their future.
I believe that this form of independence is a crucial skill upon entering the workforce, and it is of great benefit to learn it now
On the International Day Of Education, six students from Qatar Foundation’s partner universities – majoring in different fields – share their experiences of how teaching and learning adapted to a new normal, their concerns about their future career path, and their greatest aspirations.
The importance of interdependence
Speaking about the transition to remote learning, Muna Almasri, a Palestinian member of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar’s Class of 2023 said: “With online schooling, studying became a largely independent task, and although it affected our social life, it taught us discipline and productivity through setting routines – entailing weekly exams and goals – which taught us how to prioritize and perform to the best of our ability.
“I believe that this form of independence is a crucial skill upon entering the workforce, and it is of great benefit to learn it now.”
Regarding the pandemic’s impact on students gaining hands-on experience, Almasri said “Although the hospital and clinical visits we were accustomed to for training and assessment purposes have been on pause since the start of the pandemic, they are slowly being reintegrated in a way that still prioritizes the safety of students and patients, and this is restoring our confidence.”
Almasri is proud to be pursuing medicine as a career, saying: “It is awe-inspiring to watch our frontline doctors, nurses, and all other healthcare employees make a direct impact in treating patients affected by the pandemic, and global events have only demonstrated the significance of physicians and public health.
“I continuously read articles and first-hand accounts of healthcare workers on the frontlines in emergency rooms and hospitals, and I tell myself I am studying medicine to grow into the best physician I can be. I am studying from home, making my best efforts, and I feel blessed to be so close to joining my colleagues in the healthcare workforce, benefiting and saving lives in the most direct way possible.”
Becoming more resourceful
Đorđe Popović, a Serbian student in Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar’s (CMU-Q) Class of 2022 who is majoring in computer science, believes the shift in learning methods caused by the pandemic has actually positively affected the potential experience he will have once he starts working.
This expectation that technology will play a significant role in shaping our society has only been further affirmed by the events of the past year
“This shift to a remote setting, where obtaining help is an elongated multi-step process, has actually pushed me to become more independent and resourceful when encountering countless minor challenges that I would usually quickly consult friends or faculty for,” he said. I believe that this ability to work independently and efficiently will undoubtedly benefit my work and early career.”
Feeling fortunate to have chosen computer science as the focus of his studies, based purely on his interests, Popović believes that computer science and technology will play a huge role in the near future.
“This expectation that technology will play a significant role in shaping our society has only been further affirmed by the events of the past year,” he said, “and I am even more excited and eager to start practicing and applying myself to solving the continuously growing set of problems in computer science.
“Qatar Foundation, CMU-Q, and its faculty have provided me with incredible opportunities to work on research and internship projects during my studies, experiences that have only furthered my enthusiasm for this field and given me clarity as to how I can make the positive change I seek in the field and the world.”
Bandar Al-Abdulla, a Qatari student majoring in chemical engineering at Texas A&M University in Qatar, describes the shift in learning during the pandemic as draining, saying” “The lack of human interaction and seeing your peers as names displayed on a screen can be demotivating at times.”
“I also think that our presentation skills might be affected in the online setting; in normal circumstances, presentations would be in front of an audience and you have all eyes on you, with the need to speak effectively and utilize the proper body language and gestures. But because presentations are now online, and facing the crowd is online, it gives a sense of comfort that will not be there during the real deal.
“However, our professors are helping us stay focused and present, constantly grabbing our attention and asking questions, as well as engaging us in group discussions that could compensate for the element of social distancing.”
Al-Abdulla is still looking forward to starting his career, and believes that choosing engineering was a smart decision, especially in Qatar due to the opportunities available with the country as it continues to grow and be a major player in the global energy market.
For Sara Lidetoft, a Swedish student who is majoring in international politics at Georgetown University in Qatar, the classroom experience is what she has missed more than anything.
It has opened our eyes to new possibilities of connecting online, and I am positive that this will be beneficial to me as I start my career
“Although I’m extremely grateful for AI and the online tools which have enabled us to come this far in adapting to the pandemic situation, I feel that the class doesn’t really ‘come alive’ when it’s online,” she said. “
But she remains confident in her choice of major regardless of the recent challenges, “I believe that political issues in general benefit from social media, since people can connect and discuss across borders,” she explained.
“I also think the pandemic has encouraged us to think creatively about how we work and communicate; it has opened our eyes to new possibilities of connecting online, and I am positive that this will be beneficial to me as I start my career - for example, last May I did a remote internship and I was able to work while in a different country.”
Looking at how the pandemic necessitated a model of learning that differed from students’ previous expectations, Arya Mainali, a third year student majoring in Media Industries and Technology at Northwestern University in Qatar, said: “When I applied to study at Northwestern Qatar, I never thought I would be taking production classes online, or that I would be learning to use equipment or campus spaces over a zoom call – I always assumed that my career would require me to be in the office and around other people at all times.
I am optimistic about a future where learning from a distance will be as fruitful as taking classes in-person
“However, this shift to an online environment and the fact that education is no longer limited to a physical space is actually quite impressive. There is a lot of room for improvement in the way we do virtual learning, and I am optimistic about a future where learning from a distance will be as fruitful as taking classes in-person.”
Arya also praised the support she and her fellow students continue to receive from QF and Northwestern Qatar in this unprecedented time saying: “It is great how QF supported its students living in its Student Housing who couldn’t return back home because of the lockdown; it helped ensure my travel from Nepal to Qatar was as smooth as possible; and it provided me with financial support to quarantine once I arrived back here.
Never underestimate the amount of patience and self-determination this generation has
“Efforts like this have made QF’s student community feel appreciated and taken care of despite the situation. Students must be in a good mental state to do their best academically, and the constant support from QF has made it possible for students to feel comfortable and empowered through this challenging time. And the significant steps taken to ensure our safety and return to campus have encouraged students to look forward to normalcy in our lives.
And Naima Almajdobah, a Jordanian who is studying graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar, she believes this year brought her out of her comfort zone, and has made her a better person.
Speaking about her generation’s reaction to the challenges they have encountered in a critical phase of their lives, she said: “Never underestimate the amount of patience and self-determination this generation has, we are fighting against a world pandemic, digging deep into the majors we love, working creatively to change and adapt to new ways of learning, and, against all odds, aspiring to a bright future.”