AHMAD BIN FAHAD

Saudi Arabia 2021 | EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

With years of experience in distance learning, TVTC was able to act quickly in the face of COVID-19, taking a series of steps such as establishing a crisis management committee and overhauling the evaluation system. Here, TBY talks to Ahmad bin Fahad, Governor of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC).

What was TVTC's first response to the COVID-19 crisis?

First, we established a committee for crisis management with sub-committees for each region of the Kingdom. We also formulated a team and a committee for distance learning because we give classes all over the country, and changing to distance learning was a significant shift. Our previous policy for grading and attendance was based on actual attendance. We modified some of the policies and got them accredited. Communication has been extremely effective; we are using technological tools to grow our distance learning program, and overall the scale up has been successful. Usually, we use distance learning for 50,000 students per week, but now we have more than 200,000 students per day, a huge jump. We quickly invested in our infrastructure so we could continue to operate as normal without losing any time. Then, we also held a range of e-seminars on crisis management to address the challenges facing educational training institutions. We invited international speakers, consultants from BCG, and our staff and experts in Saudi Arabia.

One of the issues facing educational institutions across the world is how to evaluate learning remotely. How have you adapted?

We had to completely overhaul the system for evaluation. Now, we evaluate each of our student's weekly by e-portfolio evidence, and the results have been successful. There are so many ways to assess performance. Trainers need to prepare a portfolio of quizzes, homework, research, essays, attendance, participation, and other metrics. Notably, we evaluate our students' performance on a weekly basis. That is why we also changed our grading system. We reduced the weight of final examinations to less than 20% and gave more focus on assignments that demonstrate learning. Overall, this program has been effective.

If the crisis ended tomorrow, which adaptations will persist?

TVTC submitted a proposal to start a virtual college of technology in Riyadh and Jeddah more than a year ago, and we are now in the final phase. Shifting to digital is easy to talk about but requires a huge investment, especially for e-workshops or e-labs. We have seen how we can increase our efficiency by having some of the general classes like English as e-classes, and we can have male and female mixed in the classes. We are also investing in cybersecurity. Within that environment, one needs a secure and dependable IT system. We are also upgrading the skills of our staff, which is extremely important. We will not go back completely to the previous status quo, even if we had the vaccine. The new generation wants digital, but we need to have it in such a way that is accepted by all stakeholders. The youth, TVTC, and companies that will hire these graduates need to be on the same page so that we can unlock the true potential of digitalization and e-learning.

Did the university offer online programs before the crisis?

We have an e-training center that was limited to courses and some blended learning. Having that center helped us because we have content management and excellent support staff already in place. We now have more than 200,000 students attending each day. We have more than 52,000 classes every day, so it is huge. One of the challenges we faced is that some of our students did not have a device, so we used our funds to provide them with devices. We have distributed more than 20,000 devices since the start of the crisis. Some students also do not have access to the internet so we also distributed more than 40,000 internet access cards.