A decision by the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek) to resume in-class learning from August 30 for schoolchildren across the emirate is a welcome step towards bringing thousands of students back to the familiar surroundings of their classrooms and friends after a full-term hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, some aspects of the proposed back-to-school routine for school students will not be so familiar after all.
As outlined by Adek and earlier this month by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the green light for schools to resume in-class learning comes with several caveats and policies to ensure the safest possible return to a physical classroom for all students and academic staff.
While many countries are not in a position to consider reopening schools due to surging caseloads of daily infections, in the UAE there is clearly a scope to re-open due to the country’s proactive management of the pandemic
Schools need to evaluate and implement these requirements based on four key pillars: safe operations, teaching and learning, staff and student well-being and community support.
From the school bus to the classroom, there must be stringent protocols in place to ensure social distancing, and protective equipment such as PPEs, screens and partitions must be used for every interaction.
There must be a careful vigil on students in primary schools — who are unlikely to adhere to social distancing norms voluntarily.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of 60% of schools across 186 countries and forced at least 1.5 billion students to stay home. The UAE is thus not alone in striving to frame safe policies to reopen schools — countries around the world are wrestling over the same issue.
Despite the success of e-learning, there are several key skills and lessons that shape a student’s personality and academic rigour and simply cannot be imparted online — from developing inter-personal skills to sessions at the science labs.
While many countries are not in a position to consider reopening schools due to surging caseloads of daily infections, in the UAE there is clearly a scope to re-open due to the country’s proactive management of the pandemic.
Therefore, the debate over e-learning must now shift to how school spaces can be made safer and hygienic to prevent any infection.
The pandemic has been a learning lesson for all of us — and that includes the academic fraternity.
As the UAE prepares to welcome back students to classrooms, the new school year ahead can only become successful and fulfilling if all parents and students lend their full cooperation to the efforts to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being, and diligently follow all guidelines and hygiene protocols.