TASHKENT -- Schools, universities and colleges in Central Asian countries are switching to distance learning as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In Uzbekistan, authorities March 15 ordered the shutdown of all schools effective March 16.
Soon afterward, the Ministry of Public Education announced an unprecedented plan to roll out remote learning for the country's 6.1 million school students during the lockdown.
Leading education specialists and the National Television and Radio Co. of Uzbekistan teamed up to quickly develop and prepare video lessons that are now shown daily on three TV channels, pre-empting programming on NatGeoWild, EuroSport, and Hunting and Fishing.
Online lessons are also being streamed on the website of the Ministry of Public Education and its accounts on Telegram and Facebook, as well as kundalik.com and xanakademiyasi.uz.
"Children, do not squander your time! Work hard on your online lessons. Read books, expand your knowledge and get exercise every day," Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said in a speech about the coronavirus pandemic on April 3.
Otabek Karimov, a fourth-year student at the Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi Tashkent University of Information Technologies, is now studying through an educational platform on which all students have their own dashboards and access to all educational materials.
In addition, the university has its own studio, where instructors deliver their online lectures, said Karimov, who is studying for finals.
"Everything is user friendly. The only issue is that not all students have their own computers or access to Wi-Fi, so they have to work on their mobile phone," he said.
"The necessity of affordable, high-quality internet has become apparent now more than ever before," he noted.
Distance learning in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan
A similar effort has begun in Kyrgyzstan, which switched to distance learning on April 8 under an action plan developed by the Kyrgyz Education Ministry with the support of local companies and international organisations, as reported by the Times of Central Asia (TCA).
The local ElTR television channel is broadcasting video lessons. Video tutorials also being shared on YouTube and a specially designed website, and free training materials on various topics in Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik and Uzbek languages are being provided via an e-library.
Teachers are providing feedback to students via video chat applications such as Zoom, Google classroom, Telegram and WhatsApp.
A digital learning portal, where educators will post training materials and special tests, is set to begin operating on the Education Ministry's website.
"Video-conferencing for groups is held every day except Sunday," said Asel Kuvatova, a student at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek.
"During online classes, teachers show us their presentations and write as if on a blackboard. We ask questions. In general, full-fledged classes are held," she said.
Schoolchildren in Kazakhstan began studying remotely on April 6, TCA reported.
The country's TV channels broadcast lessons for pupils of all grades five days a week. Teachers will prepare more than 2,000 television lessons for them, according to the Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science.
"A remote lesson is not the same 40-minute school lesson ... First of all, we ask parents to help their children learn teaching material in new conditions," said Deputy Minister of Education and Science Sholpan Karinova.
Firuza Tatybayeva, a psychology instructor at Webster University in Tashkent, found teaching online unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. However, over time she came to feel more at ease and now even sees some advantages.
"These days especially, when we are not wasting time on travel and other distractions, we can really delve into self-improvement," Tatybayeva said.
"For those who were preparing to go study abroad and will not be able to carry out those plans because of the epidemic, there is no reason to be distressed. On the contrary, new options are emerging like never before," she said.
Now, more than ever, is the time to focus on one's education, Tatybayeva said.
During this imposed quarantine and time of social distancing, broad access to knowledge has opened up to youths and schoolchildren.
Khan Academy, an educational nonprofit based in the United States, offers access to free education, including programmes translated into Uzbek.
For young people who dream of studying in the United States, the world's leading universities are now offering 300 free online courses taught in English.
Young people may apply to Webster University in Uzbekistan, and after they complete one year of study, they may transfer to any one of Webster University's campuses around the world, including the United States, said Tatybayeva.