Back in school at the Gems New Millennium School Al Khail, Dubai Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

School is a contentious issue today in the times of coronavirus and parents today are debating across the globe whether sending the child back to class is as dangerous as enjoying a movie in a theatre.

My wife, who carries a disinfectant spray wherever she goes and sprays anything she plans to touch, and bullies anyone who does not wear a mask, is worried that the local government will allow schools to reopen soon.

She has grown to like the safety of the Zoom screen, but at the same time, is worried the kids are not getting a proper education, because of a lack of personal interaction between the teacher and the pupils.

Today, there are two types of parents, those who wear masks and those who don’t, and those who think sending kids to school is dangerous, and those who want them out of the house

- Mahmood Saberi

She also goes crazy when the kids sometimes blank out the video camera, presumably to loll on their beds while the virtual class is on.

When driving during my first year in Dubai, I could tell something was wrong because suddenly one morning it was no longer stressful driving and a trip to the nearby emirate of Sharjah, took just a couple of minutes.

A friend explained later: “School’s out and the kids and parents are on summer holiday.” (Incidentally, nobody, literally nobody, spends summers in Dubai, unless you are poor and can’t afford a trip to Switzerland, or if you are from Russia and just adore the sun, the heat and love lounging on the scalding hot sand on the beaches).

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Those who did not know what to do with their pesky kids, usually sent them to ‘summer camps’, which were basically classes in disguise and where there was more studying. (That is why Indian kids are geniuses and score ridiculous 98 per cent marks, but do not have life-saving skills such as swimming).

Much later when my kids and wife joined me in Dubai, the worst part of Back to the School season was shopping for school supplies, and it was mayhem in stationary shops.

Marvel comic hero

Everything had to have some Marvel comic hero on it, from erasers to lunch box carriers and even the massive backpack (that looked like today’s carry bag that is strapped on to the shoulders of the stooping delivery guys).

As the years passed, the school supplies started changing drastically, from simple pencils and erasers and geometry boxes, to smartphones and iPads, that cost a fortune.

The two main expenses, especially for middle-class parents like us, was house rent and school fees.

“Give me your credit card, mine is maxed out,” my wife said every month. “The kids are going to Italy with their class on a cruise and need to stay in a five-star hotel.”

“I need some money for myself,” I would argue. “What if these guys study hard, get good jobs, become rich and throw us out into the streets.”

“When I was your age, I never had a smartphone,” I would tell my kids, and they would roll their eyes and retort: “Yes, dad, and your TV was black and white and you never took the Uber home when it was raining heavily after your school bus broke down.”

“What school bus, I cycled to school through the paddy fields and one day a mad buffalo chased me and I hit it on the nose with my umbrella,” I said, trying to make up stories to make my school days seem interesting.

“Yes, dad,”, they would say in unison. “You also never had the internet and your parents did not buy you the 24-volume Encyclopedia that you needed for research.”

Today, there are two types of parents, those who wear masks and those who don’t, and those who think sending kids to school is dangerous, and those who want them out of the house.

— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi