One Year Later: Lessons from the Pandemic Nadia Awaida
Nadia Awaida

The shockwave of Covid-19 on the world and especially the education sector has been unprecedented.  As we reflect on the past year, we identify the competencies behind our coping with the pandemic. The 21st century skills that we teach in our classrooms proved to be the foundation for our resilience. Flexibility, Empathy, and Collaboration are explored with real-life examples followed by tips for classroom teaching.


Flexibility relates to our ability to handle change or manage differences in diverse environments. It has been estimated that more than one billion students were affected by school closures due to the corona virus pandemic. Teachers were unprepared to support continuity of learning and adapt to new teaching methodologies. This called for flexibility in challenging traditional models and replacing them with new pedagogies that are adaptable, offering quasi-personalized teaching experiences rich in technological pedagogical approaches. These approaches flattened the classroom in which students and teachers became equivalent.

Sixty percent of teachers received professional training (UNESCO, 2020).  UAE ministry of education conducted a one-week remote professional training for more than 25,000 teachers from government schools and over 9000 private school teachers and principals.  In collaboration with Hamdan Bin Mohammed University, a free online training course on teaching online was provided to all teachers free of charge. The foundation of strong education system is its flexibility.  This was evident in the strong synchronization of different levels of leadership and their flexibility to mobilize alternative modes of delivery. 

Teach Flexibility for Student Success

  1. Teach students to rethink their options. Provide them with choices for an activity or assignment.  This will teach them to consider alternative outcomes and break away from rigid plans.
  2. Teach students to challenge negative perceptions. Only positive perceptions lead to learning and positive outcome. Ask them to articulate the positive, explain the problem, and adjust to the unexpected.


One of the most important 21st century skills is Empathy.  It is one’s ability to recognize the feelings and perceptions of others. Covid-19 disclosed our genuine purpose and taught us to recognize the people whose values have been overlooked.  We watched selfless acts of good will and compassion in our communities.  This compelled us to serve our greatest purpose giving education a new meaning.

UAE Knowledge and Human Development Authority launched #inthistogether platform to facilitate online classes for school students amid the COVID-19 outbreak and the implementation of distant learning program by Ministry of Education. The platform features apps, services, and resources for students that are free of charge. Also, in collaboration with Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA), the Ministry facilitated free mobile internet package for families in UAE with no home internet. We have all come to witness and be a part of beautiful acts of kindness. It became clear that although we are socially distanced, but we are dedicated more than ever.

Teach Empathy for Student Success

  1. Teach students to articulate their emotions for self-discovery. Talking about emotions constructively help students deal with negative emotions. Then, ask them to consciously observe what they have in common with others and articulate what connects them.
  2. Teach students to put themselves in others’ shoes. Ask them to explain peer thoughts or feelings. Promote sense of guilt, not shame.  Feeling of guilt drives individuals to reflect on bad choices but feeling of shame makes individuals resentful. 


In today’s interconnected world, collaboration is a skill that is valued not only in classrooms but also in the workplace and in leadership.  It is the ability to connect with others and work with them to achieve common goals. According to Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director for United Nations Global Compact “We are interconnected with and interdependent on each other in ways we did not fully understand before.” As people physically distanced, their feelings of loneliness and anxiety increased.  Yet, behind the empty roads were homes filled with interconnected people.  The digital connections transcend physical constructs and carry a deeper value of how individuals relate to one another.  Research shows that the more connected we are, the more productive, healthier, and happier we tend to be. 

In the past year, people exhibited creative ways to showcase collaboration. Parents entrusted schools that relied on teachers who depended on their administration that trusted their governments who sought the support of parents and community. These connections represent our collective trust and solidarity. #inthistogetheruae is a grassroot initiative and a portal for the education community that connected people who need help with those who can help during the Coronavirus pandemic and beyond. This platform features apps, websites, services from around UAE and the world that provides services free of charge. Our solidarity lies in our collaboration, a prerequisite to our existence.  

Teach Collaboration for Student Success

  1. Group students to explain concepts, solve problems, and create original work. These practices help students develop sense of trust, reliance and positive communication to one another.
  2. Have students listen to each other and be sensitive to other’s views and emotions. Create opportunities for them to build connections with their peers, teachers and school administration.

The education community has proved its resilience.  With efforts underway to move back to a new normal, we should keep in mind that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now. 


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