COVID-19: More than a million students in UAE to resume classes after winter vacation

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Students at a school in Abu Dhabi when schools opened in the last term. Parents are now more confident about their children’s ability to keep themselves safe.
Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: More than a million students across the UAE are set to resume classes after the winter break tomorrow.

In Abu Dhabi, all students will attend classes remotely for two weeks, following a decision announced last Wednesday (December 30) by the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee, in coordination with the emirate’s education regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek). All public schools in UAE will also adopt distance learning for the first two weeks of the term starting January 3, as announced by the Ministry of Education last Tuesday (December 29).

Dubai private schools, however, will open as scheduled, offering a mix of in-person and online classes for those who wish to continue distance learning, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) has said.

And in Sharjah, private school students can continue to choose between direct, online or hybrid models of learning in the new term. All three options were offered to students, as announced by the Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA).

“My daughter has been attending school remotely since the start of the 2020-2021 academic year in March. It was a singular experience, especially since she had previously attended a nursery and was not really allowed much screen time. But over time, she settled into the school routine,” Rajkumar J, an Indian IT professional in Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News. “In the second term, we chose to continue with distance learning and she became familiar with the curriculum and the demands of learning. Now, as we watch her, we can tell she is ready to return to school and that it will be a safe return for her,” he added.

COVID-19 precautions

Abu Dhabi first suspended in-class learning in March 2020 as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 outbreak. When school resumed after the winter break, classes were held remotely across all educational institutions in the emirate. For the following term, which began on August 30, schools were allowed to offer in-class learning to children in specific grades, with parents still allowed to opt for full-time distance learning.

During the next few months, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), the education regulator, gradually allowed children across more grades to return to school. In December, it also okayed children with chronic conditions to opt for in-class learning next term, as long as they can provide a physician’s note and parental consent.

School experiences

“My son is in his final year of school, and he went back to school just as soon as it was allowed by the authorities. He was waiting to go back, even though as a teenager, he loves his screen time. I’m sure the added social interaction and the smooth flow of information in a classroom really enhances the school experience,” said Phil Quinn, 48, a British construction executive, whose son attends the British International School Abu Dhabi.

N.S., a Jordanian mother-of-three, said she was also ready to send her eldest son back to school after two terms of remote learning. “He is now in KG 2, and there is much more that he needs to learn at school. I also have two younger boys at home, and it is difficult for me to ensure that I am doing justice to all his learning outcomes. So it felt like the best option for me to send my eldest son back,” she said.

Children’s awareness

Parents are also more confident about their children’s ability to keep themselves safe. “My daughter Nira makes sure she has her mask on properly as soon as she steps out of the house. She washes her hands diligently and I feel that the Global Indian International School has also made sure that all students are staying safe. Even when she was attending classes remotely, there was enough discussion about hygiene and safety,” Rajkumar said.

He and his wife have so far been helping their daughter with her schoolwork, but are soon expecting to return to their workplaces. In-class learning will therefore be a better option for the little family.

COVID-19 testing

The precautionary measures mandated in the emirate have also gone a long way to reassure parents. Just last week, Adek released a COVID-19 PCR testing schedule at public clinics. Children and staff aged 12 years and older must present negative COVID-19 test results before attending school, so the tests have been made freely available on designated days at specific clinics.

Distance learning option

At the same time, children can still continue to opt for remote learning, which is being provided by nearly all schools in the emirate. One parent who declined to be named said her five-year-old son was particularly susceptible to viral illnesses. So she had chosen to have him continue learning from home.

“Moreover, he has formed a connection with his distance learning teacher and since she will not be teaching him, if he returns to the classroom, we felt it would be the best decision to continue with distance learning,” she said.

Classroom preparations

Dr V.V. Abdulkader, principal, The Model School Abu Dhabi, said he was expecting more students back on the premises next week. The school, which has more than 5,000 enrolled students, saw only 70 students attending school in person in the previous term.

“I believe we will see nearly all the 300 students in Grade 10 and 12 coming back to campus,” he said.

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