Cultural and linguistic struggles and solidarities of Emirati learners in online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sarah Hopkyns*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented shifts in higher education worldwide, with some nations more adversely affected than others. Since the onset of the crisis, almost all education abruptly moved to ‘emergency remote teaching and learning’. While the United Arab Emirates has been praised for its swift and effective responses, unique cultural and linguistic dynamics in this region present additional challenges for teaching and learning. This article presents empirical data from a qualitative phenomenological case study investigating female Emirati university students’ (n = 69) perspectives on the use of video cameras and microphones in online classes. Students’ reflective writing and researcher observations in autumn 2020 revealed discomfort using video cameras and microphones due to a range of cultural and linguistic factors. Such factors include Islamic beliefs relating to modesty, home as a gendered space, noise considerations, concerns about privacy, struggles with language in their English-medium instruction university and fear of judgement from peers. Data are interpreted thematically using intersectionality together with Goffman’s theories of everyday interaction, stigma and relative deprivation, through which complexities of learner identities are explored. Practical suggestions are made on ways to adapt online learning to better suit the cultural and sociolinguistic realities of periphery and Global South contexts. It is argued that greater efforts need to be made toward inclusion of marginalized learners during the COVID-19 period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-468
Number of pages18
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number4
Early online date14 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Emergency remote teaching and learning
  • Identity
  • Inclusion
  • Intersectionality


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