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World Bank: Pandemic led to innovations in remote learning in Saudi Arabia

The COVID-19 pandemic led to innovations in the distance and digital learning space in Saudi Arabia, with a total of 6 million children – accounting for 98 percent of the Kingdom’s students – taking part in the country’s innovation journey, the World Bank said in a report published on Tuesday.

The report entitled ‘Saudi Arabia’s Digital and Distance Education’ identified the country’s swift and efficient response to the pandemic in K-12 education and explored the opportunities for further improvement in education following the digital and distance learning experience.

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The pandemic led to school closures across the world and education institutions needed to adjust quickly to minimize the disruption to students’ education. While the technology was already widely available, with many companies focusing on education as a key use case for 5G and many other innovations long before the pandemic’s onset, it was not used until COVID-19 lockdowns were properly initiated.

Throughout this time, 98 percent of students in the Kingdom logged into the “Madrasati” (which translates to “My School”) platform, a local bespoke learning platform.

The report was conducted on a nationally representative sample of almost 18,000 teachers, students, supervisors, school principals and parents, who observed virtual classroom environments as the pandemic unfolded in 2020 through to 2021.

More than 66 percent of teachers surveyed stated that they believe their students’ academic progress increased during this time, when they were learning remotely, noting a high demand for more digital learning content.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to the development of human capital in Saudi Arabia, as it did in countries across the world,” World Bank regional Director for the Gulf Corporation Council states (GCC) Issam Abousleiman said.

“The story of Saudi Arabia’s experience illustrates the importance of supporting teachers to excel in their roles by providing them with useful tools, training and guidance,” he added.

Not all students thrived

However, the report also found that not all students thrived during this time, noting that the digital learning experience was particularly difficult for the youngest learners and those without access to devices and those who had to share devices.

It also revealed that there were some concerns about students’ feelings of isolation, boredom and laziness due to a lack of social interaction with their peers, as well as eye strain and lack of physical activity.

Around 50 percent of the students surveyed for the report felt that they would have learned more if they had been in the classroom physically and most teachers, school principals and parents wanted to see a return to in-person learning in schools, with the continued use of ‘Madrasati’ and new digital resources.

In-person learning resumed for all students in the Kingdom during the 2021-2022 academic year, the World Bank report stated, adding that blended learning models are currently being studied to better understand prospects and possibilities for the sector.

“To continue improving education following the experiences during the pandemic, the report recommends further efforts to identify and support students needing additional help, ensuring all students have the devices and connectivity they need for distance and blended learning, and to target teachers’ professional development to reduce variability and ensure all students have access to high-quality teaching,” the report stated.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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